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Children surrounded by flags on a float in the Fourth of July parade, Vale, Oregon, 1941. Lee, Russell, photographer

Every country and every culture has its own traditional celebrations and festivities. Many of these celebrations have existed for centuries and have been passed down and observed, even when people have forgotten the original reason for the event. In ancient times, people gathered for religious rites, often celebrating a good harvest or a successful hunt. Today, the United States has its own national holidays and gatherings, many of which include parades, fairs, picnics, races, or displays of light, like fireworks or the lighting of lanterns.

Parades are often a central part of a community celebration, providing an exciting, moving spectacle that people can watch from the sidelines. A famous parade in Britain is called Trooping the Colour when royalty is driven around in a carriage to inspect the troops. In the U.S., we have parades for all sorts of holidays, including Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Memorial Day. We also have parades celebrating cultural events such as Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras. One city in the U.S. is known for its Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") Festival.

Some parades, which used to be mainly religious celebrations, are now put on for everyone. In New York City, the Easter Parade takes place up and down Fifth Avenue. Traditionally, this is when all the women would first wear their Easter bonnets. Another very popular parade in New York is the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which includes floats of everything from a gigantic turkey, to Snoopy to Bart Simpson. New York City is just one of many cities to hold big holiday parades. Small-town parades can also be fun because everyone can participate.

Vacations - what people did, where they went, and how they got there - have all changed over the years, but one thing remains the same - Americans love their time off! Whether they travel far away or no further than their own backyards, how Americans spend their free time says a lot about our country and our culture.

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