Culture File: Top 9 US Holidays (and how they’re celebrated)

For international students and professionals new to the United States, understanding the country’s major holidays is an essential part of cultural integration. And it can be confusing partly because not everyone celebrates them. However, these holidays are not just time off from work or school but are also rich with history, traditions, and communal celebrations that offer a glimpse into American values and customs. From patriotic observances to family-centered gatherings, each holiday provides unique opportunities to connect with the American way of life. Below is a summary of the major US holidays, including their dates and typical ways they are celebrated.

New Year’s Day (January 1)

  • Celebration: Marked by parties, fireworks, and resolutions for the new year. Many people gather with family and friends to celebrate the start of the year.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Third Monday in January)

  • Celebration: Commemorates the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. It often involves educational events, community service, and discussions on civil rights and social justice.

Presidents’ Day (Third Monday in February)

  • Celebration: Honors all US presidents, particularly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It is celebrated with patriotic events, historical reenactments, and sales promotions.

Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)

  • Celebration: Honors military personnel who have died in service. It is marked by parades, visiting cemeteries and memorials, and participating in family gatherings and barbecues.

Independence Day (July 4)

  • Celebration: Commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Celebrations include fireworks, parades, concerts, and barbecues. It is a day of national pride and patriotism.

Labor Day (First Monday in September)

  • Celebration: Honors the American labor movement and workers’ contributions. It is celebrated with parades, picnics, and as a final summer holiday before the school year starts.

Veterans Day (November 11)

  • Celebration: Honors military veterans. Celebrations include parades, ceremonies, and educational activities about military history and veterans’ contributions.

Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)

  • Celebration: A day for giving thanks and spending time with family and friends. It is marked by a traditional meal that includes turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Many people watch football and parades.

Christmas Day (December 25)

  • Celebration: Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It involves decorating homes, exchanging gifts, attending church services, and sharing meals with family and friends. Christmas trees and lights are common decorations.

Other Notable Holidays:

Easter (Date varies, between March 22 and April 25)

  • Celebration: Celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It includes church services, egg hunts, and family meals. The date is determined by the ecclesiastical approximation of the March equinox.

Halloween (October 31)

  • Celebration: Involves costumes, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and parties. It is a fun and spooky celebration for all ages.

Juneteenth (June 19)

  • Celebration: Commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Celebrations include educational events, parades, and cultural festivities.

Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day (Second Monday in October)

  • Celebration: Columbus Day honors Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, while Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates Native American cultures and histories. Celebrations vary, with some focusing on Italian-American heritage and others on indigenous cultures.

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