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National Holidays

NEW YEAR'S DAY- January 1

New Year's Eve, December 31, is more important to Americans than New Year's day itself. Everyone gathers with friends and family to "ring out the old and ring in the new," an expression which reflects the old custom of ringing church bells to greet the New Year. New Year's day is an official holiday on which schools, offices, banks, and stores are closed.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.'S BIRTHDAY - January 15

Martin Luther King, Jr. organized and led the civil rights movement in America during the 1960's.

GROUNDHOG DAY - February 2

The groundhog is a small burrowing animal that hibernates during the winter months. Legend has it that he emerges on February 2. If he sees his shadow (sunny day), he will be frightened and return to his burrow, and this is supposed to indicate six more weeks of wintry weather. If not, then spring is at hand. This is not an official holiday.

LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY - February 12

Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War (1861-1865), a period that has had a profound affect on the history of the nation. He said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," and acted to free the slaves and bring the seceded stats back into the union. This is an official holiday in many states, often celebrated as "President's Day" in conjunction with Washington's birthday.

VALENTINE'S DAY - February 14

A lover's holiday celebrated by sending cards and giving candy or flowers. It is not an official holiday.

WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY - Third Monday in February

Commemorates the birthday of George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Army that freed America from the colonial rule of England, and first president of the United States. This is an official holiday. In Florida, President's Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February, and includes both Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays.

ST. PATRICK'S DAY - March 17

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and Irish immigrants brought this holiday to America. People celebrate this day by wearing something green and getting together with friends to party and sing Irish folk songs. This is not an official holiday.

APRIL FOOL'S DAY - April 1

As in many other countries, this day is marked by the custom of playing practical jokes on one's friends and colleagues. It is not an official holiday.

EASTER - One Sunday in Spring

A religious holiday for Christians who believe that on this day Christ rose from the dead. Many folk traditions are now connected with Easter, including the decoration of brightly colored eggs and giving gifts to children. This is not an official holiday.

MOTHER'S DAY - Second Sunday in May

On this day, Americans honor their mothers by giving them flowers, buying small gifts, and taking them out to eat so that they do not have to do any work around the house. This is not an official holiday.

MEMORIAL DAY - Last Monday in May

Memorial Day is the day on which Americans remember those who died in the service of their country. Many families visit graves and decorate them with flowers. The day is also marked with patriotic parades. This day is considered the beginning of the summer season and is an official holiday.

FATHER'S DAY - Third Sunday in June

Fathers are honored on this day. Children honor their fathers by giving them cards and gifts. It is not an official holiday.

INDEPENDENCE DAY - July 4

Independence Day is the U.S. "national day." It commemorates the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia in 1776. This official holiday is celebrated all over the country with picnics, political speeches, and community get-togethers that culminate in fireworks displays.

LABOR DAY - First Monday in September

This official holiday was established in recognition of the labor movement's contribution to the productivity of the country. It is the last holiday of the summer season and is celebrated with picnics and other outings.

HALLOWEEN - October 31

This was originally a religious holiday, but its religious character has been lost in the U.S. and is now celebrated mostly as a children's day. Traditions include carving out pumpkins with funny or scary faces as well as dressing up in costumes and going around the neighborhood to receive treats of candy, fruit and cookies. When they come to the door, children say "trick or treat," meaning "if you do not give me a treat, I will trick you." This is not an official holiday.

THANKSGIVING DAY - Fourth Thursday in November

The first Thanksgiving was observed by the pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1621 to give thanks for the bountiful harvest and their triumph of survival over the wilderness. Now, it is a time when Americans give thanks for the good life they enjoy and celebrate by getting together with family to eat traditional foods, such as turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is an official holiday.

CHRISTMAS - December 25

Many people regard this as the most important holiday of the year, with the holiday season extending from a few days before Christmas to New Year's Day. Its origins are religious in nature and many people today celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas.  Even families who do not have strong religious convictions decorate a Christmas tree and join in the festivities of the Christmas season. It is a holiday celebrated by almost everyone in the country. Family members travel great distances to be together for this day on which gifts are exchanged and a traditional dinner is shared. Christmas is an official holiday.

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