New Year's Day,  Martin Luther King Day,  President's DayValentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, April Fools Day,  Palm Sunday,  Good Friday,  Easter Sunday,  Mother's Day,  Memorial Day,  Father's Day, Independence Day,  Labor Day,  Halloween,  Thanksgiving,  Christmas Eve,  Christmas, New Year's Eve

While the U.S. does not specifically designate any days as “national holidays,” the federal government recognizes 10 days each year when they give their employees a day off work and don’t transact business. We generally observe U.S. holidays on the Monday closest to the actual date of the holiday to create a three-day weekend, with the exception of New Year's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, which we celebrate on whatever date the specific holiday falls. (For example, we always celebrate Christmas on December 25th, regardless of what day of the week it falls.) The other five holidays the federal government observes include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.

Most states and large private businesses follow the same basic guidelines as the federal government in establishing their employment holidays. However, many businesses actually enjoy more productivity on holidays than non-holidays because others don’t go to work. To take advantage of this situation, many retail establishments promote sales and specials to draw consumers who have the day off.

Many people refer to the time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s as the “holiday season” since Thanksgiving, Winter solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day all fall in that time period and many seasonal parties occur during that time frame.

New Year's Day
The celebration to ring in the New Year in the United States begins on December 31st and continues into the early hours of the morning on January 1st, although you will often hear people wish each other a happy new year for several weeks after the holiday.

Traditionally in the U.S., family and friends ring in this holiday with a party. Parties across the country often turn on the television to tune in to the famous celebration at Times Square in New York City. Hundreds of thousands of jubilant people crowd the square to join in the festivities and count down the last minute of the passing year as a lighted ball drops to the bottom of a pole. Once it reaches the bottom at midnight, the official start of the New Year, people hug and kiss, blow on noisemakers and set off firecrackers all across the country.

Retail stores often have sales to commemorate the New Year, but private businesses generally do not open for business. Restaurants may or may not close in observance of the holiday.

Numerous college football bowl games air on television over this holiday period. The famous Tournament of Roses Parade draws a crowd of spectators in Pasadena, California as well as a national television audience before the Rose Bowl football game between the top two collegiate teams.

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Martin Luther King Day
Since 1986 schools, offices and federal agencies remain closed on the third Monday of January in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the only federal holiday commemorating an African-American.

In the 1950s Dr. King began organizing non-violent protests against unequal treatment of African Americans. His efforts propelled the Civil Rights movement forward. Although his philosophy of peace and non-violence rallied many followers, his demonstrations often ended in violence because of the passion he invoked, and he and his followers constantly had to deal with threats and attacks.

In 1968, a sniper assassinated Dr. King during a worker’s strike in Tennessee, but the Civil Rights Movement did not die with him. His widow and many others influenced by Dr. King’s message promoting peace, social justice and racial and social equality have continued to impact civil rights in the United States.

Another tradition associated with the New Year holiday encourages people to make New Year’s resolutions. These usually take the form of commitments to accomplish or fulfill self-imposed goals, such as lose weight, start exercising or quit smoking.

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President's Day
Although President’s Day originally celebrated the birthday of the first president of the United States, George Washington, it has now become a federal holiday to observe both the birthdays of President Washington, President Abraham Lincoln (the 16th president) and all those who have served as president of the United States. It is observed the third Monday of February and taken as a holiday by federal employees and institutions, as well as many schools.

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Valentine's Day
On February 14th, Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day as an opportunity for lovers to express their devotion to one another. You will see hearts and cupids decorations in many places to represent love and affection, and many couples purchase candy, flowers and cards as popular ways to communicate their sentiments to one another. Children often exchange valentines at school by purchasing or making cards and candy for their classmates. Women in a romantic relationship expect men to do something sweet for them on Valentine’s Day and many couples either get engaged or married on this holiday. While no businesses or schools close to commemorate this day, retailers cash in on the sentiment and expectations by promoting anything associated with love.

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St. Patrick's Day
On March 17, many U.S. citizens of Irish descent, and increasingly many without any connection to Ireland at all, celebrate the national holiday of Ireland and its patron saint, Saint Patrick. Celebrations usually revolve around wearing green, eating Irish food (usually com-beef and cabbage) and drink (often beer dyed green) and attending parades. Traditionally, those caught not wearing green get pinched. Decorations include leprechauns, shamrocks and anything green.

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April Fools Day
While not an official holiday, many Americans enjoy participating in April Fool pranks on the first day of April. Practical jokes and harmless tricks make this a fun and lighthearted day across the country. For example, someone might call their roommate and say, “I’m so excited! I just found the most adorable puppy and I’m going to bring him home!” Surprised, the roommate might stutter and stammer around because they hadn’t talked about getting a dog, or maybe their lease stipulated no pets. Then suddenly the caller might blurt out, “April Fools! I’m not really bringing a dog home!” On this particular day, it is considered fun to try to trick someone, and then catch them by reminding them it’s April Fools Day.

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Palm Sunday
In the United States, the Sunday before Easter is known as Palm Sunday. It marks the final Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. The name comes from the event described in all four of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Crowds of people welcomed him, waving palm branches and crying “Hosanna.” As he rode, they laid the palm branches down on the ground before him. As a tribute, many churches order palm branches and have children or attendees wave them at some point during the church service on Palm Sunday.

The date for Palm Sunday varies according to when Easter occurs that year, but it will always take place between March 15 and April 18.

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Good Friday
The United States does not observe Good Friday as a federal holiday, so banks, post offices and many businesses operate as normal. Some schools take this Friday before Easter off due to the number of students who honor the day for religious reasons.

In spite of the name “Good Friday,” Christians and Catholics set the day apart in remembrance of the day the Romans crucified Jesus more than 2,000 years ago. The term “good” refers to the good that Jesus did in taking on the sins of the world and voluntarily dying to liberate us from that sin. As part of the Holy Week tradition, churches often have a somber service that reminds attendees of how Jesus suffered and then reconvene on Easter Sunday to rejoice in the resurrection, when Jesus overcame death and sin by rising from the dead.

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Easter Sunday

Easter marks the end of the 40 days of Lent and traditionally commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Easter does not have a set date, but relies on a complicated process that includes lunar and ecclesiastical calculations. Most people could not tell you how the date is set, but simply rely on their calendar to know when it will fall each year.

Many people will attend a church service on Easter Sunday even if they do not attend church at any other time of the year. Families traditionally dress up for the Easter service, with girls and women donning new spring dresses and hats and men and boys wearing suits and ties. Easter services focus on the celebration of the resurrection, with upbeat and triumphant music. Many churches prepare musicals, concerts and performances to take advantage of the Sunday when they expect the highest attendance. Some churches still schedule an outdoor sunrise service at dawn to correlate with the time of day that the women found the empty tomb and began spreading the news of Jesus’ resurrection.

The Easter holiday in the United States has become increasingly secularized, incorporating such traditions as the Easter Bunny who brings baskets of goodies to children and decorating and hiding Easter eggs to be discovered on Easter morning. The Easter festivities tie in with many elements that celebrate the coming of spring so decorations and accessories include baby chicks, bunnies, chocolate eggs and elaborate Easter baskets lined with imitation grass and colorful plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, chocolates and treats of all kinds.

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Mother's Day
On the second Sunday in May, the United States celebrates Mother’s Day to honor and thank mothers for all they do. Children and husbands traditionally give their wife and/or mother a corsage, an arrangement of flowers or some other gift as a token of their appreciation. Many families eat dinner at a restaurant so the mother gets a break from having to prepare a meal on her special day. Sometimes kids are encouraged to make their mother breakfast in bed so she doesn’t have to get up and start taking care of everyone as she usually does. Mother’s Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1914.

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Memorial Day
On the last Monday in May, the United States observes a federal holiday to honor those who have given their lives in sacrifice for their country. We call this Memorial Day. Federal institutions, banks and schools observe this holiday, in addition to most non-retail businesses. While for many the holiday has simply become a three-weekend that kicks off the summer season, the original observance had a much more solemn intent.

In memory of those who lost their lives serving in military service, appropriate Memorial Day observances include taking flowers or small flags to cemeteries and placing them on the graves of fallen heroes, visiting memorials, flying the U.S. flag and thanking soldiers and others who serve in the military. The country preserves a national moment of remembrance at 3:00 p.m. from Washington D.C.

Although people consider Memorial Day a patriotic holiday, they often use the day off to get together in backyards and parks for picnics and cookouts, baseball games and camaraderie to welcome the warm weather and usher in the summer season.

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Father's Day
The United States celebrates Father's Day on the third Sunday in June to honor and recognize fathers for their role in parenting. Children and wives traditionally give their father or husband a gift as a token of their appreciation. Many families celebrate outdoors with a cookout and give the father a tool, electronic gadget, tie or tickets of some kind. Father's Day became an officially recognized holiday in 1972.

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Independence Day
You will hear the terms “Independence Day,” “Fourth of July” and “July Fourth” interchangeably to represent the holiday the United States celebrates in recognition of July 4,1776 when the founders of this country adopted the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed their independence from Great Britain.

As a patriotic tribute, many people wear red, white and blue, erect American flags and sing patriotic songs. Most spend the day outdoors attending or participating in parades and games, eating, drinking and spending time with their family. Picnics and barbeques often include hotdogs and hamburgers, potato salad and ice-cold drinks. The day usually ends with an elaborate fireworks display in a public park at dark.

Some states allow people to purchase fireworks to shoot off themselves, with careful boundaries about how and where they can do so. Children especially love lighting sparklers that spark and sizzle as they hold the handle and swish them through the air.

Federal institutions and many businesses close in honor of this holiday. When July 4th falls on a weekend day, the federal holiday is celebrated on the following Monday. Many retail establishments remain open for business and entice customers with sales and Independence Day specials.

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Labor Day
Beginning in the late 1800s, the celebration of Labor Day on the first Monday in September began as a day of rest for the working man. Today, most people think of the three-day weekend as the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Many celebrate with a cookout. a ball game, or a final day at the beach before turning their sights toward school, colder weather and the last quarter of the year. While the original intent of the holiday as a day of rest has not changed, people seem to regard the weekend as a transition from one season to the next. Federal institutions, banks, schools and non-retail establishments generally take the day off, but retail stores often use it as an opportunity to have end-of- summer sales and specials.

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While originally a pagan holiday in many cultures, the United States’ celebration of Halloween on the 31st of October has evolved into more of a pop culture event than a religious festival. Traditional festivities involve children dressing up in costumes and going from house to house after dark “trick-or-treating” to collect goodies in an outstretched bucket, bag or container. Many households carve faces in pumpkins and put a lit candle inside the carved out center to set out on the porch—we call these “jack-o- lantems.” Popular refreshments associated with Halloween include popcorn balls and candy apples.

The darker origins of the festival still come through in many of the parties that celebrate the occasion with costumes and decorations that tend toward the chilling, including witches, spiders, skulls and skeletons. Adults have gotten increasingly involved in the holiday, hosting costume parties of their own, visiting haunted houses, watching horror films and telling ghost stories for entertainment. Many party-goers and mischief-makers take the opportunity to wreak havoc in neighborhoods by smashing pumpkins, soaping windows or creating other similar messes.

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The traditional American Thanksgiving Day celebration falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Its roots trace back to the Pilgrims who celebrated the end of the harvest in gratitude with the Indians who had helped them survive as recent settlers in a new land.

Today, families gather from around the country to celebrate the holiday together, feasting on a huge meal that traditionally includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, fall vegetables, cranberries and pumpkin pie. Often families offer a prayer of thanksgiving before sitting down to eat. Many families spend the day cooking, talking, eating and watching and/or playing football together.

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Christmas Eve
While not an official holiday, some U.S. companies either close for the whole day before Christmas, or shut down early and get a head start on the Christmas Day holiday. Many churches offer Christmas Eve services; some begin in the late afternoon and/or evening, while others provide late night or midnight observances.

Most retail businesses do not close on Christmas Eve, and some even stay open later than usual to accommodate those shoppers who have not gotten everything on their lists yet. Depending on family tradition and customs, some families open their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve while others reserve this ritual for Christmas morning.

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Christmas Day in the United States has come to represent several events, including the birth of Jesus of Nazareth more than 2,000 years ago, winter festivals and the annual arrival of Santa Claus. All federal, commercial and retail businesses close on December 25th for Christmas Day.

Decorations for the holiday represent its religious origins with nativity scenes, angels and stars, as well as seasonal symbols like Christmas trees, wreaths, snowmen and reindeer, and secularizations like Santa Claus, stockings and gift packages. While many of the traditions linked with Christmas grew out of the Christmas story in the Biblical gospels, they have lost their associations over the years.

The Christian tradition celebrates Christmas as the time Mar}' gave birth to the baby Jesus, God incarnate, in a manger surrounded by farm animals because they could find no room in the inn. Angels proclaimed the good news to shepherds in the hills, and a bright star led wise men from the east bringing gifts to worship the newborn King.

Secular tradition dictates that Santa Claus delivers toys and gifts to all the good little boys and girls via a sleigh pulled through the night sky by reindeer on Christmas Eve. In reality, customers throng to stores and malls during the month of December to purchase gifts for their friends and relatives. Wrapped packages accumulate under the Christmas tree until the gift exchange, which occurs on Christmas Eve in some families and on Christmas Day in others. Many people send Christmas cards, bake cookies and goodies and have festive parties to celebrate the season.

Regardless of religion, most people view the Christmas season as a joyful time of family, celebration, goodwill and giving. More than any other time of the year, families who have scattered across the country try to spend this holiday together. However, it is probably worth mentioning that for some, the season triggers depression and grumpiness.

During the entire month leading up to the holiday, Christmas decorations dominate the landscape. Colored lights and yard decorations illuminate neighborhoods and town centers. Inside and outside homes, businesses and public places you will see Christmas trees with ornaments, Santa Claus and elves, stockings, candy canes, reindeer, snowmen, angels, nativities and brightly-wrapped packages.

People gather to sing Christmas carols, exchange gifts, eat and dress up to attend special Christmas-themed performances. Many offices organize an annual party to celebrate the season, while carefully avoiding offending anyone who does not honor the religious associations with the holiday.

Fall colors and harvest themes dominant the decorations for this festive day. Children craft and decorate cornucopias, pilgrims, Indians and turkeys at school.

Although some grocery stores remain open part of the day to provide last minute supplies, virtually all businesses close for this holiday. Schools and many non-retail businesses also remain closed on the day after Thanksgiving, known as the kick-off for the Christmas season. The day after Thanksgiving marks the busiest retail shopping day of the year and the day before Thanksgiving marks the busiest day at U.S. airports.

The Christmas season also coincides with the Jewish celebration of Hanukah and the African-American tradition of Kwanza, making for a very festive season throughout the country.

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New Year's Eve

While not an official holiday, some U.S. companies either close for the whole day before New Year’s, or shut down early and get a head start on the New Year holiday. One of the most common ways to celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year is partying with friends and family beginning on the evening on December 31st. Festivities include music, dancing, games, and food.

If you receive an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party, you should ask what kind of party to expect. It could be just a casual get-together to see the New Year in with friends, but it could also be a more formal and festive event. Many New Year’s parties serve alcohol and attendees can become quite inebriated as the long night goes on. If you, or someone you know drinks too much alcohol, do not ever attempt to drive home. Either get a ride with someone who has not been drinking, or call a taxi. Some companies offer free taxi rides on New Year’s Eve to prevent drunk driving accidents.

Some other common American New Year’s Eve traditions include:

  • Kissing your partner as the clock strikes midnight

  • Setting off fireworks and firecrackers as New Year’s Eve gives way to New Year’s Day. (If you decide to participate in this practice, check the local laws regarding where these explosives are allowed as many places prohibit them within city limits or ban them when conditions are too dry.)

  • Watching the televised Times Square celebration in New York City as the famous ball drops to signify the start of the New Year.
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