* Key: g = government offices and institutions b = banks and financial institutions o = non-retail businesses / offices r = retail businesses
Fall Season: Labor Day and the start of the school year ushers in a new mode of behavior as people wind down their summer activities and head into a more business frame of mind. The change in the air brings about harvest and craft festivals and fall foliage viewing, most famous in places like New England (the upper Northeast corner of the U.S.). Pumpkins, squash, and fall foliage colors make their way into home and retail décor and highlight the season.
Holiday Season: The holiday season officially kicks off at Thanksgiving in the United States. The various December holidays of Hanukah (Jewish), Christmas (Christian), Kwanzaa (African American), and New Year make for a jubilant time of year. Starting with the Thanksgiving festivities, shoppers hit the retail stores on the following day. Holiday parties hosted by individuals and commercial enterprises occur throughout the month, with festive lights, special holiday foods, music, and decorations. Retailers consider it their busiest time of year, as do most individuals on the hunt for appropriate holiday gifts and treasures.
Closures: Government, Banks, Business Offices, some Retail Description: Celebrates the first day of the new year. Background: Ancient civilizations marked their years with the seasons, celebrating the beginning of a new year at the time of the vernal or autumnal equinox, or sometimes at the winter solstice. Julius Caesar revised the calendar to start the year on January 1, and the Gregorian calendar we use today followed suit. Fittingly, the month of January is named after the two-faced Roman god Janus, who could look forward to the New Year and back at the old. How Celebrated: Following New Year’s Eve—a night of revelry, parties, and fireworks—New Year’s Day is much quieter. Many spend the day recovering from the night before, while others go on walks, spend time with family and friends, go to the movies, go shopping, or engage in other leisure activities. Americans often go away for a few days to take advantage of the last of the holiday season. Ski resorts in the northern regions of the country or tropical winter retreats in Mexico, Miami, Hawaii, or the Caribbean are popular destinations during the Christmas and New Year period.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Date: The third Monday of January.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Closures: Government, Banks, some Business Offices, some Retail Description: This holiday is observed in honor of the civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is fondly remembered as a man who bridged gaps and brought healing to the U.S. Background: Shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968, John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, presented a bill to Congress proposing that the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. be celebrated as a national holiday. Since one of the bill’s strongest foundations is King’s activism and support for the trade union, unions became the biggest supporters of the holiday. After a long dispute between different parties, President Reagan signed the bill on November 2, 1983. The holiday was first observed on January 20, 1986. How Celebrated: Commemorative programs are organized to highlight the life and works of Martin Luther King Jr. and to provide a venue for interracial and intercultural interaction and unity among Americans. In the classroom, teachers usually present curriculum about the civil rights’ leader’s life and the history of segregation in the United States.
Closures: None Description: A Christian holiday commemorating St. Valentine that has become a secular day to celebrate friendship and romance. Background: Roman Emperor Claudius II engaged in many battles. However, he struggled to recruit sufficient numbers of soldiers, as the men refused to leave their wives to go into battle. Consequently, Claudius banned engagements and marriages throughout Rome. St. Valentine, a Roman priest at that time, found the order to be an offense against God's commandments and secretly married couples. He was eventually caught and condemned to death. He was beaten and beheaded on February 14 around the year 270. His feast day has become linked with romance. How Celebrated: Retailers have seized on the notion of Valentine’s Day, when florists, chocolatiers, and card companies make a mint capitalizing on the concept of love and romance. Many romantic restaurants offer special Valentine’s Day menus (with inflated prices), and dinner reservations are hard to come by, as couples go out to purchase romance. Besides romantic couples, Americans also exchange Valentine’s Day cards with parents, friends, schoolmates, and sweethearts. Pink and red are the colors for Valentine cards, candy boxes, and decorations.
President’s Day/Washington’s Birthday Date: The third Monday of February. Closures: Government, Banks, some Business Offices, some Retail Description: A holiday to celebrate the birth of George Washington, the "Father" of America. By extension, this holiday honors other great presidents throughout American history. Background: In 1879, the U.S. government established a holiday on February 22 to celebrate the birth of George Washington, the "Father" of the United States (in spite of some uncertainty about Washington’s actual date of birth). In 1971, legislation took effect that moved the celebration to every third Monday of February. This holiday is still officially known as Washington’ s Birthday, although most Americans and commercial establishments call it President’s Day instead. It falls near Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12), which was also once a federal holiday. This holiday is also a tribute to the General who awarded the first military badge of merit to the common soldier. This custom was revived on Washington's 200th birthday (1932) when the Purple Heart medal was given to recognize soldiers injured in wars. Veterans are also honored on the weekend of Washington's Birthday. How Celebrated: In classrooms, children hear stories about great American presidents, their lives, works, and legacies. Since 1862, George Washington’s farewell address has been read at commemorative events. Many communities pay tribute to the presidents for the entire third week of February, and some for the entire month. Popular events during this time include the George Washington Birthday Parade (in Alexandria, Virginia) and the George Fest in Eustis, Florida. In the past few years, stores have been holding sales and businesses remain open, while some schools close for the entire third week of February. Retailers thrive on the holiday weekend, hoping to entice non-working customers with special President’s Day sales.
St. Patrick’s Day Date: March 17.
Dyeing the River Green on St. Patrick's Day in Chicago
Closures: None Description: This day celebrates the feast of St. Patrick and was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants. Background: St. Patrick was born in A.D. 385, and his given name was Maewyn. He lived in the British Isles, until he was taken as a slave by Irish marauders and brought to Ireland. Here he lived for a few years as a shepherd, an experience that drew him closer to God. Patrick prayed that he would return to his homeland. According to the stories, one night, as he was praying, he heard a voice tell him to escape from the farm and that he would find a ship waiting for him 200 miles away. Patrick got to the ship and sailed to Europe. Away from slavery, Patrick believed that he was called by God to go back to Ireland to convert the Celtic people to Christianity. He studied for 12 years in a monastery under St. Germain before returning as a missionary to Ireland.His mission lasted 30 years. St. Patrick then retired to County Down and died on March 17 in A.D. 461 The patron saint of Ireland, he is reputed to have driven all snakes from the Ireland and to have explained the Holy Trinity with the example of the shamrock. St. Patrick's Day celebrations in America began in 1737 in Boston. How Celebrated: Originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick's Day has become a secular holiday, celebrated with grand parades, feasts, beer drinking, and anything Irish. Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional fare, and people wear green, symbolic of the Irish shamrock. Irish pubs and bars are usually filled to the brim come nighttime, with festive revelers drinking merrily while singing and dancing to Irish tunes.
Easter Sunday Date: Varies with the Christian calendar.
Easter Egg Candy
Closures: None (Sunday) Description: A Christian feast day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Background: The celebration of Christ’s resurrection is one of the most important feasts in Christianity. Adherents pay homage to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which followed his crucifixion three days before on Good Friday. The message of having everlasting life with God overtakes the final doom of death and leads to the celebrations of Easter that proclaim hope for mankind. With its symbolism of new life, the holiday combined with earlier pagan celebrations of spring and took its name from Eastre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility and springtime whose symbol was the rabbit. The Easter traditions of rabbits and eggs both have historical roots. Christians adopted the egg as a symbol of the seed of life, and, thus, a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. Because rabbits and hares have frequent, multiple births, they were also symbols of fertility. How Celebrated: Christians commemorate this important day by hearing Mass or attending Sunday church services and partaking in a feast. Church services include choral works with classical Easter hymns and music; sermons with the message of God’s hope; robes and fabrics of white (indicating the purity of Christ); and festive attire. Fancy Easter hats donned by women are famous in the Deep South and elsewhere where the tradition still remains. The elegant white Easter lily (sometimes referred to as the "white-robed apostle of hope") figures prominently as décor. Story has it that the lilies grew in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the exact place where Christ’s drops of sweat fell in his final agonizing hours before his crucifixion. The flower represents the resurrection and symbolizes the purity and everlasting hope of Christ. The menu of the Easter feast reflects the region of the country, but most often features ham or lamb. Fresh, spring vegetables also feature on the classic Easter menu along with sweets and baked goods. Easter brunches are common at hotels and restaurants, and many offer large buffets filled with traditional and region-specific menu items. Mimosas (champagne and orange juice) often accompany an Easter brunch. Hard-boiled eggs are decorated with various forms of art, usually colored dyes, in the days prior to Easter, and traditional children’s folklore has it that the Easter bunny hides the eggs. Children engage in traditional Easter egg hunts on Easter Sunday to find the hidden eggs and other candy treats. Chocolate eggs and rabbits, Easter baskets filled with treats, and pastel-colored flower arrangements and other trinkets are common fare in retail outlets peddling the Easter atmosphere. Many people, including those who do not celebrate Easter, take the opportunity to spend time with their families, dine out, relax, and travel.
Memorial Day Date: The last Monday of May.
Honoring Veterans on Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor
Closures: Government, Banks, some Business Offices, some Retail Description: Honors Americans who died for their country. Background: Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day, since it became a custom to honor those who died, especially during the Civil War, by decorating their graves. It was first observed nationwide on May 30, 1868, by the orders of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic. After World War I, people included those who died during the War on the honor roll. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be celebrated every last Monday of May. How Celebrated: Today, Memorial Day is celebrated with much respect and honor. A ceremony is held at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where small American flags are placed on each grave. Military cemeteries often follow the same tradition. It has also become a custom for the president or vice-president to deliver a speech honoring the contributions of those who died and to lay a ceremonial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony. Special concerts and parades also take place in many communities to honor the troops and those who have fallen in service to their country. However, the tradition has slowly begun to erode. The American Veterans Center resurrected The National Memorial Day Parade in 2005, which is now held annually in Washington D.C., in order to preserve the meaning and honor of the day. Some families use Memorial Day as a day to clean the family graves at the local cemetery, regardless of whether the deceased were members of the armed forces. In some areas, the long weekend marks the approach of summer and the first opportunity of the year to get out the barbeque grill or have a family picnic.
Independence Day Date: July 4
Fireworks Over Mount Rushmore on the Fourth of July
Closures: Government, Banks, Business Offices, some Retail Description: This holiday, fondly called "Fourth of July," celebrates the anniversary of U.S. independence from Great Britain. Background: The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, ending the war between the 13 British colonies and Britain. For the first time in an official document, the colonies were referred to as the United States of America. How Celebrated: Traditional Fourth of July activities include community parades, pancake breakfasts, picnics, barbecues, county fairs, and fireworks. Americans enjoy the day at the beach, a lake, a local park, or an amusement park. If the date falls near a weekend, many take a long holiday at campgrounds or at lake and mountain retreats. Traditional foods vary from region to region but usually involve some form of barbecued meat, corn, baked beans, salad, and the all-American hamburger and hot dog. Fireworks in almost every larger community will cap the festivities when night falls. If July 4 falls on a weekend (as in 2009 and 2010), the official holiday moves to the nearest weekday. Some businesses give their employees an additional day off to allow a four-day weekend if the Fourth falls on a Tuesday or Thursday.
Labor Day Date: The first Monday of September. Closures: Banks, Government, Offices, some Retail Description: A day to honor the working class and their contributions to society. Background: The celebration of Labor Day originated with "the eight-hour-day movement," which advocated balance in a worker’s day: eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. An 1886 labor rally in Chicago promoting the eight-hour workday ended with the death of several demonstrators in the "Haymarket Riot." Although many countries commemorate this event on May 1, the U.S. honors the labor movement and the ordinary worker in September. How Celebrated: Many cities in the U.S. celebrate this day with festive parades, where labor unions serve as the major participants. Labor Day also marks the end of summer for Americans; thus, the three-day weekend is often spent out of town or somewhere that involves the outdoors. Accommodations are usually hard to come by, and leisure locations fill up as people flock to their last-hurrah summer destinations: mountain retreats, beach areas, camping grounds, parks, amusement parks, and resorts.
Columbus Day Date: The second Monday in October.
Columbus Day Parade in New York
Closures: Government, Banks, some Business Offices, some Retail Description: Commemorates Christopher Columbus's arrival in the "New World." Background: October 12, 1492 marked the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Although he was not the first to reach the Americas from Europe, Christopher Columbus successfully established the European culture in the land. How Celebrated: Columbus Day has been commemorated in the U.S. since 1971. Nevertheless, only banks, the post office, government offices and schools observe this holiday. No specific celebrations exist for the average citizen, except to revel in a day off from work.
Closures: None Description: The day and evening when children and adults dress up and attend Halloween parties or go out "trick or treating." Background:Halloween is one of the oldest holidays. It stems from many cultures and goes back thousands of years. The Celts, who lived in what is now Great Britain, worshipped nature and many gods, the sun god being their favorite. Their New Year took place on November 1st and was celebrated every year with a festival that marked the end of the "season of the sun" and the beginning of the "season of darkness and cold." They believed the dead were called together on the eve of their New Year, October 31st, and would take different forms; bad spirits took the forms of animals, the most evil being the cat. In A.D. 835, the Roman Catholic Church made November 1st a church holiday to honor all the saints—this was called All Saints’ Day, Hallowmas, or All Hallows. Over the years, October 31st became known as All Hallow Even, then All Hallow’s Eve, and finally Halloween. Witches and Warlocks have long been a part of Halloween, with legends telling of witches who gathered twice a year when the seasons changed, April 30th and the eve of October 31st. They would arrive on broomsticks to celebrate a party hosted by the devil. Witches were believed to have the ability to cast spells that transformed people into different forms. It was thought that to meet a witch you needed to wear their clothes inside out and walk backwards at midnight on Halloween. How Celebrated: Children and adults dress up as a favorite character, or, more traditionally, as a ghost, witch, cat, or other scary creature. The pumpkin (Jack-o-lantern) also comes into play as a symbol of autumn harvest and features prominently as Halloween decor. Pumpkin patches pop up in most communities for the sole tradition of pumpkin carving. Halloween costume parties are common on the weekend following or prior to Halloween, whichever is closest to the actual date. Some companies even allow their employees to wear costumes to work and host parties. In the evening, children traditionally visit their neighbors and shout "trick or treat," to receive candy. Due to safety concerns, many communities also offer trick-or-treating alternatives either at community centers or at churches. Many merchants now offer daytime trick-or-treating, handing out candy to children and featuring their wares to prospective shoppers, namely the parents, at the same time.
Veterans Day Date: November 11
Veteran's Day Parade in Orlando
Closures: Government, Banks, some Business Offices, some Retail Description: Honors the men and women who served their country as members of the armed services. Background:World War I officially ended through the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. However, the actual armistice between the Allies and Germany took place several months earlier on November 11, 1918. The holiday was first known as Armistice Day, an official holiday in the U. S. since 1926. On June 1, 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans. How Celebrated: The official Veterans Day ceremony is held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, Washington D.C. At 11a.m., a combined color guard (that represents all military services) "Present Arms" (a special salute) at the tomb and the presidential wreath is solemnly laid while a rendition of "Taps" is played. Commemorative ceremonies continue in a nearby amphitheater with special speeches and tribute performances.
Thanksgiving Day Date: Every fourth Thursday of November.
Closures: Government, Banks, Business Offices, Retail Description: An annual celebration of thanksgiving for the year’s blessings. Background: Some say that Thanksgiving traces back to 1621, a year after the Puritans arrived in Massachusetts. It was said that a harsh winter caused the death of many of these pilgrims. As a result they asked neighboring Indians for help. The Indians taught the Puritans how to plant corn and other crops. Following the next fall's abundant harvest, they decided to give thanks by holding a feast. Some say the celebration dates back even further to a time when farmers believed that spirits inhabited the crops, causing the crops to either grow or die. Harvest festivals are mostly celebrations of the defeat of the evil spirits. During the late 1770s, Congress proposed a day of national thanksgiving. In 1817, New York State began observing Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom and many states followed suit. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln finally appointed a national day of thanksgiving. How Celebrated: Thanksgiving Day in America is an opportunity for relatives to gather and to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with the extended family. Thanksgiving dinner includes traditional food such as roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, squash, and pumpkin pie. If a family member is known for a special side dish, it becomes a fixture in the annual menu as well. Before the dinner commences, family members may pause to say a prayer of gratitude for their blessings. Holiday parades and giant balloon festivals are held in many locations. Where weather permits, homegrown traditions like an informal "turkey bowl" (football game) or "turkey trot" (footrace) allow re-united cousins, siblings, and high school friends to have some fun on Thanksgiving morning (and get them out of the kitchen crew’s way). Many Americans take an additional vacation day on the succeeding Friday to make a four-day weekend. Thanksgiving weekend is often cited as the busiest travel season of the year.
Christmas Day Date: December 25
Santa Claus Handing Out Presents
Closures: Government, Banks, Business Offices, Retail Description: A Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It also serves as a time for sharing traditions and gifts with family and friends. Background: Long before the birth of Christ, Europeans celebrated the dark days of December with festivities and fire symbolizing hope for spring and the return of longer days. Although no one is sure exactly when Jesus Christ was born, the 4th-century Pope Julius I declared that December 25 would be the official date to celebrate Christmas. In this way, he introduced a Christian element to the mid-winter festivals. How Celebrated: For many, Christmas serves as a celebration where families gather, share a meal, and exchange gifts. Many Americans adorn their homes with Christmas lights, trees, wreaths, and other traditional decorations. Sending Christmas cards to friends, colleagues and relatives during the month of December is also a long-standing tradition. Individuals and offices often hold holiday parties in the weeks before Christmas for their friends, employees and/or clients. Other traditions include Christmas caroling, giving to charity, visiting the elderly, craft fairs, and special theatrical or musical productions of Christmas origin.
From Thanksgiving onward, retailers begin an endless stream of Christmas marketing campaigns, capitalizing on the gift-giving tradition. The day after Thanksgiving has commonly become known as Black Friday—indicating that retailers will now have their finances "in the black" after shoppers descend on their stores in masses. Some retail outlets now open already at midnight on Thanksgiving Eve. Some stores remain open until midnight in the week running up to Christmas to take advantage of the gift-purchasing frenzy.
The holiday has become largely secular in the United States, and many individuals now participate solely in the commercial aspects of decorating, food preparation, parties, and gift giving. In order to appeal to and avoid offending other segments of society, the word "Christmas" has slowly faded into the background to be replaced with the more commercially appealing "Holiday" or "Holiday Season."
For those who do celebrate Christmas, families of different ethnic backgrounds enjoy their own Christmas customs, food, music, prayers, and stories on Christmas Eve. Christians will go to a Christmas Eve service at a local church and participate in special choral and reading services held to remember and celebrate God’s gift to the world, Jesus Christ.
New Year’s Eve Date: December 31 Closures: Some offices (some partial day) Description: An evening celebration to close out the old year and usher in the new. Background: As the final day of the Gregorian calendar, festivals marking the event have been celebrated the world over to put a final statement on the end of the year. How Celebrated: As one of the biggest social occasions of the year, New Year’s Eve celebrations in the United States usually take the form of late-night parties and revelry that span the midnight hour. Restaurants usually offer special New Year’s Eve menus, with highly inflated prices, and nightclubs and bars have special New Year’s parties. New Year’s concerts have also become popular. New York City offers the most famous tradition, as thousands converge onto Times Square to see the famous Waterford Crystal ball drop at midnight.
Attire at clubs, restaurants, concerts, and theatrical venues is usually formal for the occasion, as women don glittering, glamorous outfits, while men wear their finery to ring in the New Year. Prices also soar into the hundreds of dollars for guests to participate in the festivities. Venues often pass out New Year’s hats and noisemakers to help energize the mood. Champagne and embraces usually accompany the midnight hour, as does the song Auld Lang Syne. Needless to say, drinking is the most common form of activity at New Year’s. In concentrated party areas, people spill out into the streets shortly before the stroke of midnight to celebrate with the masses. Taxis and limousines are hard to come by, and police checkpoints are set up everywhere to discourage drinking and driving. Even in quiet residential neighborhoods, a few people come outside at midnight to bang on pots and pans and shout "Happy New Year!" to the world at large. Many communities offer non-alcoholic alternatives for party-goers, and those interested in more spiritually enlightening activities can often join New Year’s Eve vigils or services.
Festivals in the United States are too numerous to list. Each region has its own special tributes, events, and celebrations for anything from music, dance, food, wine, art, fashion, history, ships, cars, boats, animals, and the list goes on. For example, a typical local harvest festival centers around the main crop of the region and offers music, food, handicrafts, and children’s activities. The two events listed below are just a sampling of particular ethnic festivals known on a more national scale.
Mardi Gras Date: The day before Ash Wednesday (usually in February or March).
Closures: None Description:Mardi Gras is the last day of the festival season known as Carnival. In the U.S., Mardi Gras is held in New Orleans 47 days before Easter Sunday. Background: The first Mardi Gras in North America actually occurred during French rule. Along with the Catholic culture of France, New Orleans embraced the Mardi Gras celebration in 1699 as the early explorers celebrated it along the banks of the Mississippi River. Mardi Gras literally means "fat Tuesday" in French. It is officially the day before Ash Wednesday and is also called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. For Christians, It was originally the time of feasting before fasting commences on Ash Wednesday. As the celebration grew larger each year,Mardi Gras became a week-long celebration. New Orleans established krewes–organizations that host the Mardi Grasparades and balls. So important is the tradition to New Orleans that it went on to celebrate Mardi Gras just six months after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. How Celebrated: The season of Mardi Gras officially begins on Epiphany, January 6, when people begin preparations for the grand celebration. For two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday, at least one major parade takes place daily, until five days before the season ends, when the revelry mounts and the biggest and most elaborate parades are held. The parades include colorful floats and elaborate costumes, and treats are thrown to the crowds. People attend parties overflowing with food and drinks during this festival, and visitors flock to the city to partake in the revelry, much of it at night and filled with drinking and other forms of bawdy licentiousness. Parents beware!
Cinco de Mayo Date: May 5
Cinco de Mayo
Closures: None Description: This holiday remembers the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Despite the fact that the Mexican army was eventually defeated, theBatalla de Puebla still bears much meaning for the Mexicans as a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. Background: After obtaining independence, Mexico still needed support, which France, England, and Spain provided. Because of the national crisis after the Mexican-American war and the Civil War, President Benito Juarez decided to suspend foreign debt payment for two years. The three patron countries did not agree to this and decided to invade Mexico. Spain and England eventually withdrew, but France pressed on, aiming to create an empire under Napoleon III. This became the context of the Batalla de Puebla.How Celebrated:Cinco de Mayo has become the popular name for the Batalla de Puebla anniversary celebration. In the U.S. celebrations mostly occur in areas with major Mexican populations, i.e., California, Arizona, and Texas. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a considerably larger scale in the United States than it is in Mexico, as Americans of Mexican descent have an opportunity to honor Mexican heritage and its blending with the United States. Opportunities for commercial enterprise also abound, especially for the music, food, and beverage industries. The Cinco de Mayo celebrations are embraced by Mexican-Americans, native Mexicans, and all those who like a party. Festivities include grand parades, mariachi music, and a lot of festive dancing.