New Year’s Eve, which is on December 31, is the last day of the year in the United States. It is a major social observance and many parties are held, particularly in the evening.
Celebrate New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is a major social holiday for many people in the United States. Many people hold parties at home or attend special celebrations to celebrate the upcoming New Year. In many cities, large scale public events are held. These often attract thousands of people.
A particularly striking aspect of the New Year’s Eve festivities is the ball drop in Times Square in Manhattan, New York City. The ball is made of crystal and electric lights and is placed on top of a pole, which is 77 feet, or 23 meters, high. At one minute before midnight on December 31, the ball is lowered slowly down the pole. It comes to rest at the bottom of the pole at exactly midnight. The event is shown on television across the United States and around the world. The event has been held every year since 1907, except during World War II.
Across the United States a range of cities and towns hold their own versions of the ball drop. A variety of objects are lowered or raised during the last minute of the year. The objects are usually linked to an aspect of local history or industry. Examples of objects ‘dropped’ or raised in this way include a variety of live and modeled domestic and wild animals, fruit, vegetables, automobiles, industrial machinery, a giant replica of a peach (Atlanta, Georgia), an acorn made of brass and weighing 900 pounds (Raleigh, North Carolina) and ping pong balls (Strasburg, Pennsylvania).
December 31 is not a federal holiday, but it does fall in the holiday season at the end of the year. It is a holiday in some states like Kentucky, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Most schools and other educational institutions throughout the United States are closed. Some organizations are closed and others are open but offer limited services. Many stores are open on New Year’s Eve, but may close early. Many theaters, clubs and other entertainment venues have special programs. It may be necessary to reserve tickets many weeks in advance.
Public transit systems may operate normal or reduced services. Some companies extend their schedules into the early hours of January 1 to enable people who have attended New Year’s Eve parties to return home safely. If you need to use public transit on December 31, it is wise to check the appropriate timetables carefully before you travel.
There may be some congestion to traffic or diversions around large scale events. Diversions may be in effect in the days before New Year’s Eve so that stands can be built. It is wise to check the local media if you wish to drive to or near large scale events.
About New Year’s Eve
In both the Gregorian calendar, currently used in the United States, and the Julian calendar, which was used until 1752 in the British colonies, the last day of the year is December 31. In Europe, the mid-winter period was traditionally associated with feasting and parties. In the early years of the American colonies and within the United States, this type of celebration was often frowned upon, particularly by religious communities.
Around the start of the 1900s, New Year’s Eve celebrations in America started to appear. The first Ball drop in Times Square was held in 1907. Around the same time, special events to welcome the New Year started to be organized on January 1.
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St Nicholas’ Day is an observance of European origin that is celebrated in some American communities on December 6.
Celebrate St Nicholas’ Day
Children in families who celebrate St Nicholas’ Day receive treats – including candy, cookies, small toys, or fruit – in stockings, socks, shoes or bags on December 6. Some churches have special services dedicated to the feast of St Nicholas on this day.
St Nicholas’ Day is an observance and not a federal public holiday in the US.
About St Nicholas’ Day
The legendary figure of St. Nicholas is derived from Nicholas of Myra who officiated as a bishop in 4th century Greece. During his lifetime he developed a reputation for gift-giving by putting coins into other people’s shoes, which accounts for many of today’s Christmas traditions that involve leaving gifts in shoes or boots.
Some Europeans who immigrated to the United States brought with them beliefs, customs and practices associated with St Nicholas’ Day. It has been recorded that celebrations associated with the observance took place in cities such as New York in the early 1800s.
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National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, which is annually on December 7, commemorates the attack on Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, during World War II. Many American service men and women lost their lives or were injured on December 7, 1941. National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is also referred to as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day or Pearl Harbor Day.
What do people do?
On the direction of the President, the flag of the United States of America should be displayed on the homes of Americans, the White House and all United States government buildings. The flag should be flown at half-mast to honor those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many associations, especially those linked with Pearl Harbor survivors or those who died from the attack, participate in special services to commemorate the event. Memorial services are held at venues such as the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Other activities include: wreath-laying ceremonies; keynote speeches by those associated with the event; luncheons; media stories on survivors’ recollections of the Pearl Harbor attack; and school activities to educate students about the attack on Pearl Harbor in relation to World War II history.
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is not a federal holiday. Government offices, schools, businesses and other organizations do not close. Public transit systems run on their regular schedules. Some organizations may hold special events in memory of those killed or injured in Pearl Harbor.
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the American Army and Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The attack came as a surprise to the American Army and Navy and lead to great losses of life and equipment. More than 2000 American citizens were killed and more than 1000 were injured. The Americans also lost a large proportion of their battle ships and nearly 200 aircraft that were stationed in the Pacific region. More than 60 Japanese servicemen were killed, injured or captured. The Japanese Navy also lost five midget submarines and 29 aircraft.
The Japanese military had hoped that the attack on Pearl Harbor would prevent the United States of America from increasing her influence in the Pacific. However, the events in Pearl Harbor actually led to the escalation of World War II. The day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan and so entered World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt in a speech to Congress stated that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was “a date which will live in infamy”. Shortly afterwards, Germany also declared war on the United States. In the months that followed the attack, the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” swept the United States and radio stations repeatedly played a song of the same name.
In 1991, which marked the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Congress established the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal. This is also known as the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Medal and can be awarded to any veteran of the United States military who were present in or around Pearl Harbor during the attack by the Japanese military. The medal can be awarded to civilians, who were killed or injured in the attack.
Memorials have been built to remember or to symbolize the day. For example, the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor is a marble memorial built over the sunken USSArizona, which was dedicated in 1962. The memorial remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. The memorial was designed by architect Alfred Preis, an Austrian-born resident who lived in Honolulu and was placed at a detainment camp after the Pearl Harbor attack as part of the internment policy of Japanese and German Americans at the time.
Another memorial that commemorates Pearl Harbor Day is the USS Utah, a battleship that was attacked and sunk in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A memorial to honor the crew of the USS Utah was dedicated on the northwest shore of Ford Island, near the ship’s wreck, in 1972. The ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989. It is also Utah’s official state ship. Memorabilia, books, and movies about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 have also been made available to the public over the years.
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Christmas Eve in the United States, which is annually on December 24, is the day before Christmas Day. It falls within the Christmas season, which is a time for people to buy presents and visit friends or relatives.
Celebrate Christmas Eve
Since Christmas Eve is not an official federal holiday, most people have to work. However, it is a partial day off or a full day off in some states. Many workplaces hold Christmas parties or celebrations, so there is a celebratory air to the day. People who work in the retail or catering sectors often have to work very hard to meet consumer demands on December 24.
Many people in the United States decorate their homes and driveways with seasonal decorations, although some do this much earlier, starting just after Thanksgiving Day in late November. The centerpiece of the decorations is often a Christmas tree decorated with fairy lights, tinsel, angels, stars and other seasonal ornaments. Outdoor light sculptures are also becoming increasingly popular. These are many light bulbs or LEDs in the form of trees, sleighs, reindeer, Santa Claus, snowmen and other seasonal figures. Light sculptures may be placed on driveways, roofs or in gardens.
In the evening, often just before bedtime, many families, particularly those with children, will hang up stockings on the fireplace or the end of their bed. These Christmas stockings are often red with a white fluffy trim, although they may be of any design and are often much bigger than the socks that they represent. Children hope that Santa Claus, a mythical figure thought to represent an ancient European saint, will enter their home via the chimney and fill their stocking with gifts, sweets and oranges.
Christmas Eve is not a federal holiday. However, it is a partial day off in states like Kansas, North Dakota, and Virginia. It is a state holiday in Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. Most schools and other educational institutions throughout the U.S. are usually closed on December 26. Many organizations will open as usual, but some may close earlier or offer reduced services. Stores are normally open as usual, but may shut earlier. Stores and malls are likely to be very busy, as people look for last minute Christmas gifts and stock up on food for the festive season.
Public transit systems may run a normal or reduced service, particularly in the evening. If you need to use public transit on Christmas Eve, is it a good idea to check the services that the appropriate companies offer carefully. Many people travel to visit family members or friends on Christmas Eve. There may be some congestion on roads and highways, particularly around major cities. Airports and long distance bus terminals may be especially busy.
About Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve marks the start of the holiday season at the end of the year. For many Christians, it is a day to remember the events around the birth of Jesus. Some people, especially Roman Catholics, attend a midnight mass at church. Traditionally, the midnight mass started at midnight, just as Christmas Eve ended and Christmas Day started. However, now may churches hold this church service in the late afternoon or early evening of Christmas Eve.
Many Protestant churches also hold special services on Christmas Eve. These are often candle-lit and may be very solemn. Some include the presentation of a crib scene depicting the holy family, with statues or actors representing Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds and various animals thought to be present in the stable where Jesus was born.
On Christmas Eve in 1914 and 1915, unofficial Christmas truces began in the World War I fighting. German soldiers lit candles and sung Christmas carols. On the other side, British troops responded by singing English carols. Soldiers from both sides shouted greeting and visited each other, sometimes exchanging small gifts. On Christmas Eve in 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 read from the creation story in the Book of Genesis. This was widely broadcast on television.
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Many people in the United States celebrate Christmas Day on December 25. The day celebrates Jesus Christ’s birth. It is often combined with customs from pre-Christian winter celebrations. Many people erect Christmas trees, decorate their homes, visit family or friends and exchange gifts.
©iStockphoto.com/ Lisa Thornberg
What do people do?
People celebrate Christmas Day in many ways. In the days or even weeks before Christmas Day, many people decorate their homes and gardens with lights, Christmas trees and much more. It is common to organize a special meal, often consisting of turkey and a lot of other festive foods, for family or friends and exchange gifts with them. Children, in particular, often receive a lot of gifts from their parents and other relatives and the mythical figure Santa Claus. This has led to Christmas Day becoming an increasingly commercialized holiday, with a lot of families spending a large part of their income on gifts and food.
Many Sunday schools, churches and communities organize special events. These can include decorating the neighborhood or a shopping mall, putting up a Christmas tree and planning a Nativity display, concert or performance. A lot of plays and songs have a aspect of Christmas as a theme. Some groups arrange meals, shelter or charitable projects for people without a home or with very little money.
Government offices, organizations, businesses and schools are closed, almost without exception. Many people visit relatives or friends and are out of town. This may cause congestion on highways and at airports. Public transit systems do not run on their regular schedules. In general, public life closes down completely.
The original meaning of Christmas is a special church service, or mass, to celebrate the birth of Christ. The story of the Nativity, or the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, are particularly important in religious celebrations of Christmas. However, many traditions that are around today have their roots in pre-Christian winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreen bushes and tree, symbolizing everlasting light and life.
In Roman times, a mid-winter festival was held. This was a relaxing time with a lot of parties and merry making. It was also common to give other people small gifts, such as dolls for children and candles for adults. This festival culminated with the celebration of the winter solstice, which fell on December 25 in the Roman calendar. In Scandinavia, a festival called Yule and lasting up to twelve days was held in late December and early January. In this time people burnt logs and held parties. These customs have influences how Christmas Day is celebrated today in the United States.
The Bible does not give a precise date for the birth of Jesus. It is also unclear when December 25 became associated with the birth of Jesus, although it may have been around two hundred years after his birth. In the early centuries of Christianity, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus was not a cause for celebrations. The idea of turning this day into a celebration started in the early Middle Ages in Europe.
During Reformation and up until the middle of the 1800s, Christmas was often not celebrated because partying and merry making was seen as unchristian. From about 1840, celebrating Christmas became more widespread. December 25 was declared a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Since then Christmas Day has become a steadily more important holiday.
A wide range of people and objects represent Christmas. These include baby Jesus, the Nativity and the Three Kings, but also Santa Claus, reindeer and elves. Common objects at this time of year are pine trees, holly, decorations, fairy lights, candles and presents. Christmas Day is now truly a mix of religious celebration and commercial interests.
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Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday honoring African culture and traditions. It falls between December 26 and January 1 each year. Maulana Karenga, an African-American leader, proposed this observance and it was first celebrated between December 1966 and January 1967.
What do people do?
Kwanzaa is a holiday honoring the culture and traditions of people of African origin. It is celebrated by people from a range of African countries and their descendants. Kwanzaa consists of a week of celebrations, which ends with a feast and the exchange of gifts. During the celebrations, candles are lit and libations are poured. A libation is the name given to a ritual pouring of a drink as an offering to a god. During Kwanzaa, a wooden unity cup is used to pour the libations.
A Kwanzaa ceremony often also includes performance of music and drumming, a reflection on the Pan-African colors of red, green and black and a discussion of some aspect of African history. Women often wear brightly colored traditional clothing. Some cultural organizations hold special exhibitions of African influenced art or performances during the period of the celebrations.
Originally the people observing Kwanzaa did not mix any elements of other festivals into their celebrations. However, in recent years, it has become increasingly common for people to mix elements of Kwanzaa with Christmas or New Year celebrations. For instance, a family may have both a Christmas tree and a Kwanzaa candle stick on display in their home. This enables them to include both Christian and African inspired traditions in their lives at this time of year.
Apart from New Year’s Day (January 1), the days on which Kwanzaa falls are not public holidays. It is largely a private celebration observed by individuals, families and local communities. However, it falls between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when some businesses and organizations may be closed or run fewer services. If you need to do business with a company or organization with an African-American orientation during this period, it may be wise to check whether they are open as usual.
The main symbols of Kwanzaa are a mat, on which to put the things needed for the celebration, the unity cup used to pour libations, a candle stick holding seven candles, the seven candles, ears of corn, the Kwanzaa flag and a poster depicting the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are: unity; self-determination; collective work and responsibility; co-operative economics; purpose; creativity; and earth.
The colors of Kwanzaa are red, black and green. The Kwanzaa flag consists of three blocks, one in each of these colors. Three of the seven candles are red, three are green and one is black. Each candle represents one of the principles of Kwanzaa. The candle holder is carved from a single piece of wood and its shape was inspired by the form of the Ashanti royal throne.
Kwanzaa was first celebrated in December 1966 and January 1967. The holiday was proposed by Maulana Karenga to give those of African descent a holiday to celebrate their own cultural heritage and the key values of family and community. Although seen as an alternative to Christmas and thus possibly anti-Christian in the early years, many people now observe aspects of both festivals.
In 1997 and 2004, the United States Postal Service honored Kwanzaa by issuing stamps depicting an aspect of the festival. In 1997, the stamp was designed by Synthia Saint James and showed an African-American family observing the celebrations. In 2004, the stamp was designed by Daniel Minter and shows seven figures representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa gained popularity quite quickly. It is now estimated that about 13 percent of African-Americans (nearly five million people) celebrate the festival in some way.
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New Year’s Day falls on January 1 and marks the start of a new year according to the Gregorian calendar. It marks the end of New Year’s Eve celebrations in the United States and gives many Americans a chance to remember the previous year.
What do people do?
The start of New Year’s Day, at midnight, is heralded by fireworks, parties and special events, which are often televised. Very few people have to work on the day itself. For many it is a day of recovery from the New Year’s Eve celebrations the previous night. In some towns and cities, parades are held and special football games are played. The birth of the first baby in the New Year is often celebrated with gifts to his or her parents and appearances in local newspapers and on local news shows. Many people make New Year’s resolutions. These are usually promises to themselves that they will improve something in their own lives. Common New Year’s resolutions are to stop smoking or drinking alcohol, to lose weight, exercise more or to live a healthier lifestyle.
Government offices, organizations, schools and many businesses are closed in the USA on New Year’s Day. Public transit systems do not run on their regular schedules. Where large public celebrations have been held, traffic may be disrupted by the clean-up operation. In general, public life is completely closed down.
The Gregorian calendar is widely used in many countries such as the United States. This was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. The Julian calendar that had been in use until then was slightly inaccurate, causing the vernal equinox to move backwards in the calendar year. The Gregorian calendar was not accepted everywhere and some churches, particularly with origins in Eastern Europe, still use other calendars. According to the Gregorian calendar, the first day of the year is January 1.
A common symbol of New Year’s Day is Baby New Year. This is often a white male baby dressed in a diaper, a hat and a sash. The year he represents is printed on his sash. He rarely a newborn baby, as many pictures show him sitting up or even standing alone. According to mythology, Baby New Year grows up and ages in a single year. At the end of the year he is an old man and hands his role over to the next Baby New Year. Other symbols of New Year’s Day are spectacular fireworks exploding over landmarks and clocks striking midnight as the year begins.
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Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday in some states in the United States. It gives people a chance to honor and remember the Confederate soldiers who died or were wounded during the American Civil War during the 1860s.
What do people do?
A range of events are organized on and around Confederate Memorial Day. The Main Library of the University of Georgia marks the occasion by publicly displaying the original Constitution of the Confederate States of America.
Other observances include:
- Ceremonies to place flags and wreaths on the graves of Confederate soldiers and memorials to them.
- Church services.
- Re-enactments (in historical costume) of battles and events from the Civil War.
- Displays of Civil War relics.
However, this type of observance is controversial, as some see it as glorifying a culture and way of life that could only exist because of the work carried out by slaves.
Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia on the fourth Monday in April. In Mississippi it is observed on the last Monday in April. In South Carolina and North Carolina it falls on May 10.
If Confederate Memorial Day falls on Sunday in North Carolina, the following Monday is a public holiday. Confederate Memorial Day is known as Confederate Heroes Day in Texas. It is held on January 19 each year. Only one day off is given to workers if it coincides with Martin Luther King Day.
In these areas, state offices and schools are generally closed. However, Confederate Memorial Day is not a federal holiday and federal offices may be open. Stores and other businesses may be open or closed according to local custom. Public transit services may operate to their normal or reduced schedules. There may be some minor road closures or congestion around war memorials or important battlegrounds.
Between 1861 and 1865, there was a war between the Union and the Confederate States of America. As slavery disappeared from the northern states, but remained viable in the south, two very different ways of life arose in these sections, according to the US Department of the Interior’s National Park Service. Compromises regarding slavery, especially its extension to the new western territories, became more difficult to achieve. Social, political and economic power was at stake for both the north and the south.
The divisions began in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln, who opposed the expansion of slavery, was elected as president of the United States. Seven states in the south declared their secession from the United States before he took office. Southern states maintained various concerns regarding political ideals, property and homes, protection for their families, and economic loss.
The actual war started on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The last cease-fire was signed at Fort Towson, Oklahoma, on June 23, 1865, although the naval forces on the CSS Shenandoah did not surrender until November 4, 1865 in Liverpool, Great Britain. It is estimated that more than 600,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War and that about 260,000 of these were Confederates. In addition, an unknown number of civilians died in the hostilities.
Those who died fighting for the Confederate States during the American Civil War are remembered on other dates in some states. In Arkansas and Texas, there are joint celebrations of the birthdays of Robert E. Lee (a general in the Confederate army) and Martin Luther King on the third Monday in January. In Texas, this is sometimes known as Confederate Heroes Day. In Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee, the birthday of Jefferson Davis (the only President of the Confederate States of America) on June 3, 1808, is observed.
In North and South Carolina, May 10 marks the anniversaries of the death of Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (a general in the Confederate army) in 1863 and the capture of Jefferson Davis in 1865. In Pennsylvania, the organization known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans commemorates those who died while fighting for the Confederates. In Virginia, the lives of Confederate soldiers are honored on Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. Confederate Memorial Day was first observed in a number of areas in or just after 1866.
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Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14. It is a festival of romantic love and many people give cards, letters, flowers or presents to their spouse or partner. They may also arrange a romantic meal in a restaurant or night in a hotel. Common symbols of Valentine’s Day are hearts, red roses and Cupid.
What do people do?
Many people celebrate their love for their partner by sending cards or letters, giving gifts or flowers and arranging meals in restaurants or romantic nights in hotels. People who would like to have a romantic relationship with somebody may use the occasion to make this known, often anonymously. Valentine’s cards are often decorated with images of hearts, red roses or Cupid. Common Valentine’s Day gifts are flowers chocolates, candy, lingerie and champagne or sparkling wine. However, some people use the occasion to present lavish gifts, such as jewelry. Many restaurants and hotels have special offers at this time. These can include romantic meals or weekend breaks.
Valentine’s Day is not a public holiday. Government offices, stores, schools and other organizations are open as usual. Public transit systems run on their regular schedule. Restaurants may be busier than usual as many people go out for an evening with their spouse or partner. Valentine’s Day is also a very popular date for weddings.
There are a number of Saints called Valentine who are honored on February 14. The day became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages in England. This may have followed on from the Pagan fertility festivals that were held all over Europe as the winter came to an end. Traditionally, lovers exchanged hand written notes. Commercial cards became available in the mid nineteenth century.
The most common Valentine’s Day symbols are the heart, particularly in reds and pinks, and pictures or models of Cupid. Cupid is usually portrayed as a small winged figure with a bow and arrow. In mythology, he uses his arrow to strike the hearts of people. People who have fallen in love are sometimes said to be ‘struck by Cupid’s arrow. Other symbols of Valentine’s Day are couples in loving embraces and the gifts of flowers, chocolate, red roses and lingerie that couples often give each other.
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