- Holidays and Celebrations
Special American Days : President's Day, Groundhog Day, Superbowl, Thanksgiving, Labor Day
Special American Days
Being a foreigner, it often happens that I take a second look at things, that Americans just take for granted. Just as often, this allows me to cherish matters that are definitely "All American".
Some American special days seem to have no counterpart elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, they are historically ingrained in the American culture.
Let's subject them to some deeper scrutiny !
It used to be that the anniversary of George Washington , the first president of the United States, was celebrated on February 22.
Later on, this celebration was combined with the anniversary of the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln , on February 12, and the day was called President's Day .
Still later, this holiday was moved to the third Monday of February, to form a long weekend.
Unfortunately, nowadays most Americans usually only remember that this day is a paid holiday , rather than a tribute to these presidents...
Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd.
According to an ancient rural legend , on this day the groundhog leaves his winter nest to find out what the weather is going to be like.
If it cannot see its own shadow (and therefore the sun doesn't shine ), it ends its hibernation. But if it can see its shadow (and therefore the sun does shine ), it crawls back into its nest, and six more weeks of winter will come...
On TV we saw groundhog Phil from Philadelphia make his debut, to show the viewers what exactly would be the case !
But alas, Phil didn't seem very comfortable with the unusual media attention, and he was rather recalcitrant ...
It does seem rather farfetched that Phil simply can suck a six-week weather forecast from his thumb, er... foot , but after some consideration, this ancient folk wisdom may effectively be supported by somewhat more sound scientific explanations.
February 2, whether by coincidence or not, happens to be the astronomical middle of winter, smack between the solstice of December and the vernal equinox.
Even 1500 years ago, the Byzanthemes celebrated Candlemas, the 40th day after Christmas.
Furthermore, the six weeks from the legend represent the exact time span, remaining until the end of the astronomical winter !
Even the shadow part doesn't seem to have been chosen arbitrarily, since February is the most cloudy and somber month... Its counterpart, the month with the most hours of open sky, is September.
The statistical chances of Phil having no shadow and an early spring may be rather optimistic, but hey, every excuse to have a party is more than welcome...
Super Bowl is sort of the American football championship, a sport Europeans call rugby .
On this day nearly all of commercial life simply grinds to a halt, and it has become a de facto, if unofficial holiday. It is also the second-largest day for American food consumption , after Thanksgiving Day.
Even "the Enemy" is politely requested to postpone any attack on this day, because no resistance at all will be offered... Just kidding...
The TV Broadcast
On TV, the match is closely followed by more than 154 million fans !
The commercials that are aired during the match, are the most expensive that the companies produce, and they are the most extensively watched publicity.
Obviously, this air time is also the most expensive that can be obtained in the entire year. In 2010, Super Bowl TV publicity cost a "mere" 83.000 dollar per second ! ...
After the match, the media extensively discuss the broadcast's commercials. Another aspect of the broadcast are the pre-game and halftime ceremonies , during which famous artists perform. A recent "unforgettable" incident was of course the 2004 "wardrobe malfunction " of superstar Janet Jackson...
Thanksgiving Day is a public holiday, and it is usually celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.
Legend has it that the first settlers, the Pilgrims, were helped through their first winter by the local Indians. The Indians taught them how to fish, to hunt and to plant corn. In 1621, they in turn shared their harvest with the Indians out of gratitude, in a joint day of thanks to the Lord.
This touching story has been "colored" somewhat over the years... One has to bear in mind that the deeply religious Puritans used to thank God at least three times a day, for practically everything...
The origin of this holiday can actually be specified even better.
In 1623, the Pilgrims held a special day of fasting and prayer, to beg for rain after a long period of drought. And what do you know ? The very same day their "rush order" was actually delivered !
The leader of the community immediately declared this fortunate event to be a miracle, that only came to pass (how could it be otherwise) through his personal intervention !
So this particular day was promptly declared a "Holy Day", and the Leader was extensively thanked by all for his exemplary communication skills with the weather gods...
Gradually, this ritual gained more followers in (Puritan-dominated) New England, and it soon became a tradition, that took place after the harvest.
When politicians zoomed in on this popular folk-lore, they turned an anthill into a mountain. Which is not uncommon, politically speaking, and it also happened to bring about their divine reward. Or something...
Anyway, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared this day to be an official holiday !
Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September, and it is a public holiday in the USA, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone and the Virgin Islands.
In 1882, the Knights of Labor union held a large parade in New York City, to honor the workers. Two years later, the union held another parade on the first Monday of September, and decided to repeat this annually. They called it Labor Day .
Later, and together with other unions, they started agitating to make this day a paid holiday . In 1894 it was effectively voted as such by Congress.
The festivities proceed exactly as in Europe, with parades and speeches by trade unionists and politicians.
The European First of May on the other hand, was already celebrated for many centuries by Latin and Germanic people. Probably these festivals originate in ancient rites in honor of Flora, the Roman goddess of Spring .
The first of May probably became the Day of Labor on the occasion of the first Congress of the Second International, an association of socialist and labor parties (1889).
This day became particularly important in the former Soviet Union, in other communist regimes, and finally also in socialist ranks.
Surf all over the USA and Canada !
Read more of the history of the USA on our website :