I am going to talk about American traditions and first of all I have to tell you that I found it quite difficult to justify what is a tradition or not. Firstly, traditions vary from place to place and with the USA being such a huge country it is just natural that there are other traditions in the north than there are in the south. So I tried to find traditions that are spread across the country or at least known across the fifty states. Secondly, there are traditions that have a history and used to be big one day, but lost their importance as time went by. I tried to pick the traditions that are of importance to the average American citizen. That means that I will leave out holidays like President's day, where people know that it is a holiday, but it does not really matter to them except if they get off school. So please excuse if I will leave out things you consider important or experienced differently. I will now just go through the year 2001 and talk about the holidays as they fall.
Martin Luther King, Jr.`s Birthday Monday, January 15 Each year on the third Monday of January schools, federal offices, post offices and banks across America close to celebrate the birth, the life and the dream of Martin Luther King. He fought for freedom, equality and dignity of all races and people with non-violent means. Martin Luther King day also reminds everybody of Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement. It was a hard way to pass the bill to make this day a federal holiday. Many felt that there were other Americans that deserved a national holiday. But in 1983, fifteen years after King's death, Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law, making the third Monday of January a national holiday. This year's theme is ,,Remember! Celebrate! Act! A day on, not a day off!"
Super bowl Sunday January 28 Super bowl Sunday is a very important day for most Americans. It is the day where the winner of the American Football League and the winner of the National Football league play against each other for the greatest trophy in football history. People have Super bowl Parties and meet to watch the game. The first Super bowl took place in 1967 and this year's game was won by the Baltimore Ravens who won over New York 34 to 7. Every year, communities run out of water because everybody goes to the bathroom at the same time, at the quarterly breaks. The winner team get Super bowl Rings, each worth 5000$ and about 120 000$ prize money. The game is interrupted for commercial breaks and the show starts at early afternoon, so if you watch the whole show you will see a few thousand commercials. The average cost of a thirty second spot is 2.3 million dollars. This years national anthem was performed by the Backstreet Boys and the half time entertainment was by Aerosmith and NSYNC. The game was watched in more than 43 million homes.
Groundhog Day February 2 It is an ancient belief, that hibernating creatures, which means that they sleep in winter, can predict the arrival of springtime. The day half way between the first day of winter and first day of spring is called Candlemas. An old lore says:
,,If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again."
So when the groundhog comes out of his den and sees his own shadow, it will be winter for six more weeks. The U.S. official groundhog is kept in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. In a great ceremony, in early morning of February 2, ,,Punxsutawney Phil", as the groundhog is called, is pulled from his den and whispers his prediction in the ear of his keeper. This happens in front of hundreds of reporters and lots of cameras it is broadcasted on the news all day. Remember the movie ,,Groundhog Day (Und täglich grüßt das Murmeltier)".
Valentine's Day February 14 Valentine's day derived from a Roman holiday and was brought to the USA by British settlers. People send Valentines to their Valentines. A Valentine can be a card or a gift as a token of love or a person, singled out as somebody's sweetheart. It is also a huge business, shops and restaurants are decorated and the newspapers are full of ads.
Mardi Gras Tuesday, February 27 Mardi Gras is a traditional holiday celebrated in many of the southern states of the USA, especially New Orleans, Louisiana. It was introduced by French settlers in 1699 and the Americans added to it. About two weeks before Fat Tuesday there are parades and masquerade balls that can be watched nightly, that are organized by crews, that pick a king and queen that reign for the parade. The official Mardi Gras colours are purple standing for justice, green for faith and gold for power. At the parades you can make a catch by shouting the sentence: ,,Throw me something, mister." The crews` members ride on floats and throw beads, doubloons, cups and trinkets. Beads are glass necklaces of all shapes and colours that resemble jewellery, royalty would wear, doubloons are metal coins that carry the crews emblem and their theme for the year, cups are plastic drinking cups that hold about 8-10 oz. and they carry the emblem and the theme as well. The trinkets are everything else that is thrown from the float, including candy, Frisbees and whistles. The traditional food for Mardi Gras are King Cakes, which are made of Cinnamon Rolls, formed into an oval with purple, green and yellow icing. Inside there is a figure of a baby hidden, and the one who finds it will have to host the next King Cake party.
Ash Wednesday February 28 People go to Church and get the ashes, which means that the priest will make a cross with ash on their forehead and some of them carry it all day long. St. Patrick’s Day March 17 St. Patrick is the Irish national saint and with Ireland being the green island, for this holiday everything is to be green. Shops are decorated as well as restaurants and you have to wear something green, if you do not you can get pinched by anybody.
Easter April 15 Of course Easter is the holiday of the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The symbols of Easter are the egg and the rabbit, both pagan symbols of fertility. Apart from going to church on Easter Sunday, Americans like to play Easter games like the Easter Egg Hunt and the Easter Egg Roll. Easter Egg Hunts take place in most homes, lots of churches, shopping malls and public places where eggs are hidden and the kids are invited to find them. The second big game on Easter is the Easter Egg Roll where kids look who can roll an egg the greatest distance or without breaking it, which is usually played on a grassy hillside or slope. The most famous Egg Roll takes place on the White House Lawn, where hundreds of kids come with baskets full of egg and they play where usually the reporters are standing and hope that the President is watching the fun.
The second symbol of Easter is of course the Easter Bunny and he appears in a lot of Nursery Rhymes, too.
,,Here comes Petter Cottontail hoppin` down the bunny trail Hippity hoppity Easters on its way!"
The Easter Bunny has his origins in Germany and was introduced to American folklore by German settlers in Pennsylvania during the 1700s. It was called ,,Oschter Haws" and considered one of ,,childhood's greatest pleasures"
Take our Daughters to Work Day April 26
People take their kids to work on this day.
Mother's Day May 13 In 1907, a woman from Philadelphia began campaigning to establish Mother's Day as a national holiday. She did not give up until in 1914, President Wilson made the official announcement, proclaiming Mother's Day a national holiday. Kids are supposed to let their mom have a day off. Many families begin mothers day with a breakfast in bed, while dad and the kids do the work and let mom sleep late. Maybe the kids prepare a little gift for their mom or write a card and lots of families go out for a dinner in mom's favourite restaurant. As a national holiday, Mother's Day is proclaimed by the President every year. For example in 1996, President Clinton proclaimed it as following: ,,...Now, therefore, I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 12, 1996, as Mother's Day. I urge all Americans to express their gratitude for the many contributions made by our mothers and to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities and programs..." You see that as a good American citizen you have to celebrate Mothers Day.
US Independence Day July 4 Independence Day celebrates the birthday of the United States of America, which was founded on July 4th, 1776, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On this day you see the national colours white-red-blue everywhere, people are off work and have July 4th parties, they have flags hanging in their front yards, they have barbecues, throw horseshoes, play sports and burn fireworks, a lot more than they do for New Year.
Tooth Fairy Of course there are more traditions in America that are not bound to a certain date, for example the Tooth Fairy. If an American kid looses its tooth, it will put it under its pillow that night. When the kid is asleep, the Tooth Fairy will come and take the tooth and leave some hard cash instead. Of course prices have gone up, while my host mom got a quarter for each tooth, my little host sister is expecting the Tooth Fairy to bring at least a dollar for each tooth.
Halloween Wednesday, October 31 Halloween is the time of ghost, witches, pumpkins and Trick or Treating. The history of Trick or Treating can be traced back to the early celebrations of All Souls` Day in Britain, when beggars walked from house to house and got treats to say a prayer for the dead. The custom changed and the children became the beggars, and during the Pioneer Days housewives would give kids treats to keep from being tricked. Nowadays, the kids walk their neighbourhood and say ,,Trick or Treat" and get candy from the people sitting in front of their houses with loads of candy. Even shopping malls and public places make Trick or Treating Days for kids to come and get candy. The symbol of Halloween is of course the pumpkin. It is pumpkin season and people used to cut faces out of pumpkins and put lights in it, but nowadays, Jack'O`Lanterns` are mostly made of plastic.
Thanksgiving Thursday, November 22 In 1621, after a hard first year in the New World, the Pilgrims` fall harvest was very successful and plentiful. Their governor proclaimed a day of celebration that was to be shared by all the colonist and the neighbouring Native Americans. The tradition of a thanksgiving day was kept in the following years, and in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation and so did all of the following Presidents, usually on the fourth Thursday of each November. Although there is no real evidence that turkey was served at the Pilgrims` first Thanksgiving, it is now the traditional meal for the family dinner. Usually people go home and spend the holiday with their families. Therefore, Thanksgiving is one of the most busy travel days of the year. A lot of people did not forget the origins of this holiday and they still give thanks for things that are important to them.
Christmas December 25 Christmas is very big in America. People decorate their homes weeks in advance and shops, malls and restaurants are full of Christmas trees and Santa Figures. A lot of shops offer pictures to take for kids with the real Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, which is on December 24, a lot of people go to church and then the kids have to go to sleep, of course after putting their stocking up at the chimney, so Santa Claus can come and fill the stocking and lay the presents under the Christmas tree. The story of Santa Claus began a few hundred years ago in what today is Turkey, where St. Nicholas lived, who became a saint for giving all his money to the poor. From this figure derived all the European images of St. Nicholas, which were brought to America by the European settlers where they all mixed up. As time went by, the image of the Bishop in a red robe changed to the jolly old elf he is known as today. This picture was drawn by a lot of writers, for example Washington Irving describes him in his comic ,,History of New York" as a plump and jolly old Dutchman and this was continued by Clement Moore's poem ,,A Visit From St. Nicholas", which we read in school. In the 1860s cartoonist Thomas Nash drew pictures of a plump and kindly Santa Claus for an illustrated paper. These images were ingrained into the minds of American people, including the eight reindeers with Rudolph being the most famous one. Santa Claus fills the stockings. This tradition is based on the story of nobleman who had three daughters and whose wife died of an illness. The nobleman soon lost all of his money in useless inventions, so they had to move into a cottage. The daughters couldn't marry because they had no dowries and money and property. One night they hung their stockings over the fireplace to dry, and when St. Nicholas came by and saw their despair, he dropped three bags of gold down the chimney right in the girls` stockings and so they could marry. Since then, in a lot of countries in the world, kids set up their boots or stockings for St. Nicholas to come and put something in it. So after Santa Claus came down the chimney and filled the stockings, he will leave the bigger presents under the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree was introduced to America by German settlers and was considered an oddity until the end of the 19th century. Today it is most common and every year the President of the United States of America light the National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C., and people go ice skating beneath the lighted tree in Rockefeller Center, NYC. Remember Kevin alone in NY, when Kevin and his mom meet at the Christmas tree.
Conclusion: A lot of people say that Americans do not have any culture or traditions. But I think, as we saw, this is not true. Of course they are strongly influenced by their origins which lie mostly in Europe, but they changed the customs, added to them and brought up own ideas. Now they even export their traditions to the old world and we start to pick them up, and have things like Halloween Parties.