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Most American Holidays Are Not Religious

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People in every culture celebrate holidays. Although the word "holiday" literally means "holy day," most American holidays are not religious, but commemorative in nature and origin. Because the nation is blessed with rich ethnic heritage it is possible to trace some of the American holidays to diverse cultural sources and traditions, but all holidays have taken on a distinctively American flavor. In the United States, the word "holiday" is synonymous with "celebration! "

In 1971, the dates of many federal holidays were officially moved to the nearest Monday by then-President Richard Nixon. There are four holidays which are not necessarily celebrated on Mondays: Thanksgiving Day, New Year's Day, Independence Day and Christmas Day. When New Year's Day, Independence Day, or Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, the next day is also a holiday. When one of these holidays falls on a Saturday, the previous day is also a holiday.

Holidays such as "Groundhog Day" are whimsically observed, at least in the media. The day is associated with folklore which has grown up in rural America. It is believed, by some, if the groundhog, or woodchuck comes out of its hole in the ground and sees its shadow on that day it will become frightened and jump back in. This means there will be at least six more weeks of winter. If it doesn't see its shadow, it will not be afraid and spring will begin shortly.

Americans celebrate a variety of federal holidays and other national observances throughout the year. American holidays can be secular, religious, international, or uniquely American. With the wide variety of federal holidays, and the many levels of American government, it can be confusing to determine what public and private facilities are open on or around a given federal holiday. You can usually find such information in the daily newspaper or by calling the office you wish to visit.

New Year's Day is January 1. The celebration of this federal holiday begins the night before, when Americans gather to wish each other a happy and prosperous coming year. Many Americans make New Year's resolutions. Making resolutions is easy. But keeping them is hard! So set realistic goals. A newspaper columnist writes: “My New Year’s resolution this year? No more New Year’s resolutions!” This columnist almost took a job in PR once. But when he writes a zinger like that, he’s glad he didn’t. There are no Hangover Cures but this will not stop you from getting blatheringly drunk.

Elvis Presley’s Birthday is January 8th. One of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King". Someone you know will respond with, “Thank-yuh. Thank-yuh very much,” as if he is Elvis Presley. He will smile, but this man secretly hates his life. He should.

Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in January. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was an African-American clergyman who is recognized for his tireless efforts to win civil rights for all people through nonviolent means. Wondering why we have an MLK Day but not an FDR Day or a JFK Day. (You may stress that you're not a racist but you're a racist.)

Groundhog Day is February 2, and has been celebrated since 1887. On Groundhog Day, crowds gather in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to see if groundhog Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow after emerging from his burrow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter weather. The same motherfucking guys in top hats hold up a confused groundhog.

Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14. The day was named after an early Christian martyr, and on Valentine's Day, Americans give presents like candy or flowers to the ones they love. The first mass-produced valentine cards were sold in the 1840s. Mr. and Mrs. Old Married Couple have been married for 50 years—maybe even 60 or 70. Their secret? Laughter. “Modern” messages as fax me, e-mail me and you go, girl have taken over the little candy heart business. You know what? Technology really has changed everything—even the candy we give our sweethearts!

Washington's Birthday is a federal holiday observed the third Monday of February to honor George Washington, the first President of the United States. This date is commonly called Presidents' Day and many groups honor the legacy of past presidents on this date. It is a combination of two previous holidays, Lincoln's Birthday (February 12) and Washington's Birthday (February 22).

St. Patrick’s Day Irish Americans celebrate the old country's patron saint on March 17. Wearing something green somebody uses the phrase “Erin go bragh!” or “top o’ the mornin’.” If it is not actually morning, they chuckle and say, “Top o’ the evenin’.” This makes you want to vomit. Aim for them.

Easter falls on a spring Sunday that varies from year to year. Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians, Easter is a day of religious services and the gathering of family. Many Americans follow old traditions of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving children baskets of candy. Baby chicks and bunnies sure are cute. But guess what? They grow into big chickens and rabbits. Better think twice before you give one as a gift.

National Arbor Day was proclaimed as the last Friday in April by President Richard Nixon in 1970. A number of state Arbor Days are observed at other times to coincide with the best tree planting weather, from January and February in the south to May in the far north. The observance began in 1872, when Nebraska settlers and homesteaders were urged to plant trees on the largely treeless plains.

Mother's Day celebrates mothers every second Sunday of May. President Woodrow Wilson, who issued a proclamation in 1914, asked Americans to give a public expression of reverence to mothers on this day. Carnations have come to represent Mother's Day, following President William McKinley's habit of always wearing a white carnation, his mother's favorite flower. In the mood for an essay from a middle-aged woman whose mom died seven years ago? It’s your lucky day. She can’t write for shit, but give her a break—her mom is dead! The bottom line: Don’t take your mom for granted. If you do, she might die. Then it’ll be too late!

Cinco de Mayo Spanish for "fifth of May". The holiday commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza SeguĂ­n. If there’s one thing everybody agree on, it’s that fresh salsa is much better than the mass-produced stuff—and easy to make, too! Also: A perky female friend will send you an e-card today. It will contain the word fiesta.

Armed Forces Day There were previously separate Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps Days. A day to honor all of the men and women in all branches of the service who protect our country and you. They can be called upon at a moment's notice to perform a risky and perilous mission for freedom and country. They train diligently both physically and mentally so they will be prepared to prevail in any mission they face.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed the last Monday of May. It originally honored the people killed in the American Civil War, but has become a day on which the American dead of all wars, and the dead generally, are remembered in special programs held in cemeteries, churches, and other public meeting places. The flying of the American flag is widespread.

Flag Day, celebrated June 14, has been a presidentially proclaimed observance since 1916. Although Flag Day is not a federal holiday, Americans are encouraged to display the flag outside their homes and businesses on this day to honor the history and heritage the American flag represents.

Father's Day celebrates fathers every third Sunday of June. Father's Day began in 1909 in Spokane, Washington, when a daughter requested a special day to honor her father, a Civil War veteran who raised his children after his wife died. The first presidential proclamation honoring fathers was issued in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson.

Independence Day is July 4. This federal holiday honors the nation's birthday - the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It is a day of picnics and patriotic parades, a night of concerts and fireworks. The flying of the American flag is widespread. The courtroom speech of Colonel Jessup in "A Few Good Men" sums up what we who honor past military service and those who serve today believe. Although, of course, Hollywood typically had to make the hard-nosed Marine officer the villain of the movie, what he said is absolutely appropriate in most Americans' thoughts about protesters on the 4th of July: We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post.

Labor Day is the first Monday of September. This federal holiday honors the nation's working people, typically with parades. For most Americans it marks the end of the summer vacation season and the start of the school year. There are lots of weekend getaways and barbecues, and you know nothing of Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. (Gompers! Gompers! Gompers! Ha-ha.) Also: blue-collar types built this great nation and are overlooked in today’s “information-based” economy. Most people have never built anything, ever. This makes them feel guilty.

Grandparents Day is a secular holiday celebrated in the United States and Canada on the first Sunday after Labor Day and is celebrated in the United Kingdom on the first Sunday in October. Bil Keane, creator of The Family Circus comic strip, will devote this day’s strip to Grandma and Grandpa. They will be wearing robes and smiling down on their sad grandkids from heaven. Creepy!

Columbus Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the second Monday in October. The day commemorates October 12, 1492, when Italian navigator Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. The holiday was first proclaimed in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Halloween is celebrated on October 31. On Halloween, American children dress up in funny or scary costumes and go "trick or treating" by knocking on doors in their neighborhood. The neighbors are expected to respond by giving them small gifts of candy or money. Authorities will offer to X-ray candy for free, even though there has never been a documented case of pins or razor blades hidden in candy. A local Wiccan will complain that Wiccans get a bad rap, do not worship Satan and are really just “normal folks.” She will look like a total weirdo.

Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11. Originally called Armistice Day, this federal holiday was established to honor Americans who had served in World War I, but it now honors veterans of all wars in which the U.S. has fought. Veterans' organizations hold parades, and the president places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Thanksgiving Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. The holiday began in 1621, when Puritans, who had just enjoyed a bountiful harvest, showed their gratitude to the Native Americans for their help by hosting a feast to give thanks. The Thanksgiving feast became a national tradition and almost always includes some of the foods served at the first feast: roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and pumpkin pie. What should you eat at Thanksgiving dinner? White meat and pumpkin pie. What should you not eat? Dark meat—it’s fatty! By the way: Turkey contains something called tryptophan, which makes you sleepy. And don’t forget the President gives a pardon to a turkey at the White House. They call the turkey Tom at least once.

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is December 7. In 1994, Congress designated this national observance to honor the more than 2,400 military service personnel who died on this date in 1941, during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by Japanese forces. The attack on Pearl Harbor caused the United States to enter World War II.

Christmas Day is a federal holiday celebrated on December 25. Christmas is a Christian holiday marking the birth of the Christ Child. Decorating houses and yards with lights, putting up Christmas trees, giving gifts, and sending greeting cards have become traditions even for many non-Christian Americans. Remember the true meaning of Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Whatever. Either way, the American Civil Liberties Union whines about the decorations on the courthouse lawn. No one cares. Playboy runs a color cartoon of a topless woman sitting on Santa’s lap. This makes you embarrassed for the people who work at Playboy.

Various ethnic and religious groups in America celebrate days with special meaning to them even though these are not national holidays. Jews, for example, observe their high holy days in September, Muslims celebrate Ramadan, and African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa. Ron Karenga, Professor of Africana Studies California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday. Try to explain Kwanzaa. Mardi Gras is the day before the Christian season of Lent begins and is a big occasion in New Orleans, Louisiana, where huge parades and wild revels take place. There are many other such religious and ethnic celebrations in the United States.

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