American Holidays and Celebrations
Holiday celebrations in America signify the rich blending of historic traditions from other cultures with the uniquely commemorative nature of the people of the United States. Brief review and description basic national and ethnic holidays of Americans.
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The most common St Patrick's Day symbol is the shamrock or four-leaf clover. This plant is associated with good luck. Other symbols include: Almost anything colored green; The green, orange and white flag of the Republic of Ireland; Brands of beer associated with Irish culture.
Religious symbols include snakes and serpents. Other Irish-related symbols seen on St Patrick's Day include the harp, which was used in Ireland for centuries, as well as a mythological creature known as the leprechaun and a pot of gold that the leprechaun hides. 
3.3 Native American Pow-Wows
A pow-wow (also powwow or pow wow or pau wau) is a gathering of North America's Native people. The word derives from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning "spiritual leader".
A modern pow-wow is a specific type of event where both Native American and non-Native American people meet to dance, sing, socialize, and honor American Indian culture. There is generally a dancing competition, often with significant prize money awarded. Pow-wows vary in length from one day session of 5 to 6 hours to three days. Major pow-wows or pow-wows called for a special occasion can be up to one week long.
The term also has been used to describe any gathering of Native Americans of any tribe, and as such is occasionally heard in older Western movies. The word has also been used to refer to a meeting, especially a meeting of powerful people such as officers in the military. However, such use can also be viewed as disrespectful to Native culture. [8, P. 119-127]
Planning for a pow-wow generally begins months, perhaps even a year, in advance of the event by a group of people usually referred to as a pow-wow committee. Pow wows may be sponsored by a tribal organization, by an American Native community within an urban area, a Native American Studies program or American Native club on a college or university campus, tribe, or any other organization that can provide startup funds, insurance, and volunteer workers.
Music for pow-wow dance competition and other activities is provided by a "Drum," a group of performers who play a large, specially designed drum and sing traditional songs. The number of members of a drum group may vary, but is usually at least four people, and can be far more. Some members of the drum group may wear traditional regalia and dance as well as drum, other times drummers simply wear street clothing. Drums usually rotate the duty of providing songs for the dancers, each taking a turn at the direction of the pow-wow management.
A pow-wow session begins with the Grand Entry and, in most cases, a prayer. The Eagle Staff leads the Grand Entry, followed by flags, then the dancers, while one of the host drums sings an opening song. This event is sacred in nature, some pow-wows do not allow filming or photography during this time, though others allow it.
If military veterans or active duty soldiers are present, they often carry the flags and eagle staffs. They are followed by the head dancers, then the remaining dancers usually enter the arena in a specific order: Men's Traditional, Men's Grass Dance, Men's Fancy, Women's Traditional, Women's Jingle, and Women's Fancy. Teens and small children then follow in the same order. Following the Grand Entry, the MC will invite a respected member of the community to give an invocation. The host drum that did not sing the Grand Entry song will then sing a Flag Song, followed by a Victory or Veterans' Song, during which the flags and staffs are posted at the MC's table.
Most of the various types of dances performed at a pow-wow are descended from the dances of the Plains tribes of Canada and the United States. Besides those for the opening and closing of a pow-wow session, the most common is the intertribal, where a drum will sing a song and anyone who wants to can come and dance. Similar dances are the round dance; crow hop when performed by a northern drum or a horse stealing song by a southern drum; there is also "double beat", "sneakup" and, for Women's Traditional and Jingle, "sidestep". Each of these songs have a different step to be used during them, but are open for dancers of any style. [3, P. 23-45]
In addition to the open dances, contest dances for a particular style and age group are often held, with the top winners receiving a cash prize. To compete in a contest, the dancer must be in regalia appropriate for the competition. 
3.4 Chinese New Year
Many people in countries such as the United States celebrate Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. It marks the first day of the New Year in the Chinese calendar.
Many individuals and communities, particularly Chinese communities, in the United States take part in the Chinese New Year celebrations, which can last for days. Chinese New Year celebrations in the United States have, over the years, included activities and events such as: Chinese New Year parades featuring colorful costumes, floats, firecrackers and other attractions; Various dances, including lion and dragon dances; Chinatown fun runs or walks; Balls and pageants; Street fairs; Firework displays.
Some organizations may hold special contests or make announcements to coincide with Chinese New Year. For example, some newspapers or magazines may announce the top 10 Chinese restaurants in a city or town on Chinese New Year. It is customary for many Chinese-American families to spend time together and exchange gifts, including money wrapped in red and gold packages that are usually given to children.
Chinese New Year is not a federal public holiday in the United States. However, some Chinese businesses may be closed on the day or amend their business hours to take part in the Chinese New Year festivities. There may be heavy traffic and some streets may be closed in towns or cities where Chinese New Year celebrations are held. [13, P. 33-75]
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (Census 2000: Chinese Largest Asian Group in the United States; March 4, 2002), the Chinese comprised more than 20 percent of the 11.9 million people who identified themselves as Asians in the United States' Census 2000. That translates into 2.7 million reporting as Chinese - the largest Asian group in the United States. 
Chinese historical organizations in the United States can trace the arrival of the Chinese in North, Central and South America as far back as the 1600s. Many Chinese immigrants settled in the United States during the 19th century. With immigration, came Chinese traditions and events such as Chinese New Year, which is now largely celebrated in many communities across the United States.
Chinese New Year has various symbols and traditions. For example, flowers are an important part of New Year decorations. Writings that refer to good luck are often seen in homes and business environments. They are usually written by brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper. Tangerines and oranges are also displayed in many homes and stores as a sign of luck and wealth. [13, P. 33-35]
Envelopes with money (Hong Bao, Ang Pao, or Lai See) often come in the color red, which symbolizes happiness, luck, success and good fortune. These envelopes are mainly given as presents to children. Each Chinese New Year is associated with an animal name for one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. 
3.5 Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is annually observed on May 5, the anniversary of a victory in 1862 in the fight for independence from French forces. It is a festival of Mexican pride and heritage in the United States. 
Cinco de Mayo is seen as a day to celebrate the culture, achievements and experiences of people with a Mexican background, who live in the United States. There is a large commercial element to the day, with businesses promoting Mexican services and goods, particularly food, drinks and music. Other aspects of the day center around traditional symbols of Mexican life, such as the Virgin de Guadalupe, and Mexican-Americans who have achieved fame, fortune and influence in the United States.
One of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations are in cities such as Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver and El Paso in the USA's south-western regions. In these cities, a large proportion of the population has Mexican origins. Many people hang up banners and school districts organize lessons and special events to educate their pupils about the culture of Americans of Mexican descent. In some areas, particularly in Pubelo de Los Angeles, celebrations of regional Mexican music and dancing are held.
Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in the United States. Organizations, businesses and schools are open as usual. Public transit systems run on their usual schedule. In some areas of some cities, especially those in the Southwest, local parades and street events may cause some local congestion to traffic. [10, p.8]
Cinco de Mayo officially commemorates the anniversary of an early victory by Mexican forces over French forces in the Battle of Pubela on May 5, 1862. It is not the anniversary of the defeat and expulsion of the French forces by the Mexicans, which occurred in 1867. It is also not, as is often assumed, the day of Mexico's celebrations of independence, which are actually held on September 16. It is believed that the origins of Cinco de Mayo celebrations lie in the responses of Mexicans living in California in the 1860s to French rule in Mexico at that time.
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. [4, p. 5]
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. [4, p.5]
4. Fun days
4.1 St. Valentine's Day
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.
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. [13, P. 33-38]
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. 
4.2 April Fool's Day
Unlike most of the other nonfoolish holidays, the history of April Fool's Day, sometimes called All Fool's Day, is not totally clear. There really wasn't a "first April Fool's Day" that can be pinpointed on the calendar. Some believe it sort of evolved simultaneously in several cultures at the same time, from celebrations involving the first day of spring.
April Fools' Day or All Fools' Day is a day celebrated on April 1. The day is marked by the commission of hoaxes and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, enemies, and neighbors, or sending them on a fool's errand, the aim of which is to embarrass the gullible.
The joke's victim is called an April fool. No one knows how this custom began. A common theory is that it started in France in the 1500's when the calendar was changed to make the year begin on January 1. Before that time, New Year celebration had started on March 25 and ended on April 1, when people still gave presents on April 1 as a joke.
However, communications being what they were in the days when news traveled by foot, many people did not receive the news for several years. Others, the more obstinate crowd, refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the new year on April 1. These backward folk were labeled as "fools" by the general populace. They were subject to some ridicule, and were often sent on "fools errands" or were made the butt of other practical jokes.
This harassment evolved, over time, into a tradition of prank-playing on the first day of April. The tradition eventually spread to England and Scotland in the eighteenth century. It was later introduced to the American colonies of both the English and French. April Fool's Day thus developed into an international fun fest, so to speak, with different nationalities specializing in their own brand of humor at the expense of their friends and families. Pranks performed on April Fool's Day range from the simple, (such as saying, "Your shoe's untied, or I accidentally stepped on your eye glasses!), to the elaborate. Setting a roommate's alarm clock back an hour is a common gag. Whatever the prank, the trickster usually ends it by yelling to his victim, "April Fool!"
April Fool's Day is a "for-fun-only" observance. Nobody is expected to buy gifts or to take their "significant other" out to eat in a fancy restaurant. Nobody gets off work or school. It's simply a fun little holiday, but a holiday on which one must remain forever vigilant, for he may be the next April Fool! 
Many Americans celebrate Halloween on October 31. Celebrations include costume parties and trick-or-treating.
Halloween is usually celebrated amongst family, friends and, sometimes, co-workers. However, some areas hold large community events. Parties and other events may be planned on October 31 or in the weekends before and after this date. Adults may celebrate by watching horror films, holding costume parties or creating haunted houses or graveyards. 
Many children dress up in fancy costumes and visit other homes in the neighborhood. At each house, they demand sweets, snacks or a small gift. If they do not get this, they threaten to do some harm to the inhabitants of the house. This is known as playing 'trick-or-treat' and is supposed to happen in a friendly spirit, with no nasty or mean tricks being carried out. However, if your children take part, it is important to accompany them and to check their 'treats' to make sure they are safe to eat or play with.
Some families carve lanterns with 'scary' faces out of pumpkins or other vegetables or decorate their homes and gardens in Halloween style. These were traditionally intended to ward off evil spirits. If you are at home on Halloween, it is a good idea to have a bowl of small presents or sweets to offer to anyone who knocks on your door. This will help you to please the little spirits in your neighborhood!
One cause that ties with Halloween is collecting donations for the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). As children trick-or-treat on Halloween night, some of them might carry small cardboard boxes with the UNICEF logo on them and collect coins instead of the usual candy. The money collected is then given to UNICEF and used to help needy children worldwide.
Halloween is not an official holiday. Government offices and businesses are open as usual and public transit services run on regular schedules. If you drive around in late afternoon or evening, it is important to keep a careful lookout for children who are unaccustomed to being out on the street after dark. If they are wearing dark costumes or masks, they may be less easy to see than normal. They may also be excited and dart out unexpectedly from between vehicles or behind bushes.
Halloween originated as a pagan festival in parts of Northern Europe, particularly around what is now the United Kingdom. Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is a time when magic is most potent and spirits can make contact with the physical world. In Christian times, it became a celebration of the evening before All Saints' Day. Immigrants from Scotland and Ireland brought the holiday to the United States. [13, P. 33-38]
The commercialization of Halloween started in the 1900s, when postcards and die-cut paper decorations were produced. Halloween costumes started to appear in stores in the 1930s and the custom of 'trick-or-treat' appeared in the 1950s. The types of products available in Halloween style increased with time. Now Halloween is a very profitable holiday for the manufacturers of costumes, yard decorations and candy. There are various symbols associated with Halloween. These include the spooks, ghosts and walking skeletons that represent the contact between the spiritual and physical world and between the living and the dead. Human figures that are often represented on Halloween are witches and wizards, who are seen to have the power to contact the spirit world. Bats, black cats and spiders are often connected with this holiday. These animals are associated with the night and darkness and often accompany witches and wizards.
There are also a range of objects associated with Halloween. These include blood, fire, gravestones, pumpkins, bones and skulls. They all have connections with death, the spirit world or protecting property from evil spirits. Many of these objects are now available in stores as decorations for the Halloween season. 
Holiday celebrations in America signify the rich blending of historic traditions from other cultures with the uniquely commemorative nature of the people of the United States. The American calendar is filled with a diverse variety of holidays, and each date is a tribute to the nation's great heritage and history. American holidays may include official or federal holidays, traditional holidays, ethnic holidays, and religious holidays, yet many Americans are not familiar with the individual history behind each special day.
However, the main focus for many Americans is the group of holidays known as the Big Six. New Year's Day, Presidents' Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are days that the majority of the nation's citizens are most familiar with. Nevertheless, each of the American holidays has its own unique and interesting origin.
It is widely known that Americans love to celebrate US holidays of all types. 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, African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Irish Americans celebrate the old country's patron saint, St. Patrick, on March 17, and 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.
Many Americans spend holidays with their friends and family, enjoying food, parades and games (both televised and otherwise). Though this country is still less than 250 years old, they have made up for their youth with an assortment of holidays that they love to celebrate.
Some calendar holidays in the United States are a collective grouping of traditions and cultures brought to the country by immigrants that gradually took on a distinctively American quality while others are dates of remembrance and reflection pertaining to critical events that are part of America's great history. Regardless of the national holiday, there is a special historical meaning behind each date that is just waiting to be discovered.
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