Holidays and Traditions

New Year's Day
On December 31, friends and family often get together to have a party and usher the New Year in. On January 1 we celebrate but also reflect on the mistakes of the past year and make "New Year's Resolutions" to correct them.

Valentine's Day
February 14th is the day for lovers and friends who offer each other candy, roses and greeting cards. Symbol: Heart.

Saint Patrick's Day
March 17th is the main Irish holiday. St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, gives the day its name. People wear green clothes. The St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City is famous. Symbol: Shamrock (3-leaf clover).

Easter Sunday
This very important Christian holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. It falls on a different day in spring according to the lunar cycle. The month before Easter is called Lent, a period of reflection and sacrifice, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras, the week long festival celebrated in New Orleans, is celebrated the week before Ash Wednesday and ends on Fat Tuesday.

Besides the spiritual activities of this holiday, children await the coming of the Easter Bunny (an oversized, mythical rabbit) who delivers colored eggs and candy in an Easter Basket. Children go on Easter Egg Hunts, where they try to locate hidden colored eggs. The egg has long been a symbol of rebirth, the key theme of this holiday.

This important Jewish holiday commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt thousands of years ago. At that time, the Jews were slaves in Egypt under the Pharaoh. Their spiritual leader Moses led them out of slavery and through the desert where he received the Ten Commandments from God. After forty years in the desert, the Jews arrived in the Promised Land.

Passover centers on a festival meal consisting of dishes of symbolic importance. An egg (representing life) is eaten with salt water, which stands for the tears of sadness of slavery. The famous "Last Supper" of Jesus was in fact a Passover Meal.

Memorial Day
On the last Monday in May we remember the soldiers who fell in battle.

Independence Day
The 4th of July is the country's birthday, which we celebrate with fireworks, patriotic music, parades and cookouts (outdoor grilled food). On this day in 1776, colonists in Philadelphia signed the Declaration of Independence from Britain.

Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur
They are the two most important Jewish holidays of the year. Rosh Hashanah is the actual New Year celebration according to the Hebrew calendar. Jewish people symbolize the joy of the New Year by eating sweets. Yom Kippur falls ten days later. This is the Jewish Day of Atonement (asking forgiveness for sins committed over the past year). Religious Jews fast on this day.

Columbus Day
Since 1792, the second Monday in October has commemorated the 1492 "discovery" of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. The 500th anniversary triggered heated debates about whether Columbus should be considered a heroic explorer, or the initiator of the widespread destruction of New World populations.

It originated as another solstice festival. For the Celtic tribes November 1 marked the New Year. They believed that during that time the dead walked among the living. Christians eventually adapted the holiday. It became "All Saint's Day" to remember the saints and dead friends and family.

Children wear costumes on Halloween to frighten away the spirits. The pumpkin, symbol of the harvest, is another main feature of this day. We carve faces or images into pumpkins and place candles inside, again to frighten evil spirits.

This is a purely American tradition, our native harvest festival. We celebrate this holiday on the fourth Thursday in November, and have been doing so since 1621. President Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.

This is the most important family holiday in the U.S., when families and friends gather and celebrate with a thanksgiving feast featuring cranberries, pumpkins, and turkey, celebrating the cooperation between Native Americans and early settlers.

In the U.S., the most festive time of the year is the Christmas season, which begins with Thanksgiving, and includes holidays from other religions like the Jewish Hanukkah and the African American harvest festival Kwaanza. The holiday season ends with New Years' Day. We celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. Many people, not just Christians, exchange gifts and greeting cards, Christmas songs and decorations brighten stores and homes. Children traditionally place stockings on the chimney, which Santa fills during their sleep. Santa, a mythical figure, has a white beard, red nose and wears a red suit.