Category Archives: Holidays

Happy Labor Day!

Labor Day is an American federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.

Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It also symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans, and is celebrated with parties, parades and athletic events.

A bit of history

Labor Day parade, marchers of Russian Labor Assn., New York (1909)

Labor Day parade, marchers of Russian Labor Assn., New York (1909)

The first Labor Day was held in 1882. Its origins stem from the desire of the Central Labor Union to create a holiday for workers. It became a federal holiday in 1894. It was originally intended that the day would be filled with a street parade to allow the public to appreciate the work of the trade and labor organizations. After the parade, a festival was to be held to amuse local workers and their families. In later years, prominent men and women held speeches. This is less common now, but is sometimes seen in election years. One of the reasons for choosing to celebrate this on the first Monday in September was to add a holiday in the long gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

 

 

What people do on Labor Day?

The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations”, followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations.

The holiday is often regarded as a day of rest and parties. Speeches or political demonstrations are more low-key than May 1 Labor Day celebrations in most countries, although events held by labor organizations often feature political themes and appearances by candidates for office, especially in election years. Forms of celebration include picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, water sports, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer recess. Similarly, some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school, although school starting times now vary.

Retail Sale Day

Labor Day has become an important sale weekend for many retailers in the United States. Some retailers claim it is one of the largest sale dates of the year, second only to the Christmas season’s Black Friday.

End of summer

Labor Day has come to be celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of the summer. In high society, Labor Day is (or was) considered the last day of the year when it is fashionable to wear white or seersucker.

In U.S. sports, Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. .

In the U.S., most school districts that started summer vacation in early June will resume school the day after this, while schools that had summer vacation begin on the Saturday before Memorial Day in late May will have already been in session since late August. However this tradition is changing as many school districts end in early June and begin mid-August.

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day is annually celebrated on July 4 and is often known as “the Fourth of July”. It is the anniversary of the publication of the declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.

A bit of history

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

In 1775, people in New England began fighting the British for their independence. On July 2, 1776, the Congress secretly voted for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was first published two days later on July 4, 1776. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was on July 8, 1776. Delegates began to sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. In 1870, Independence Day was made an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1941, it became a paid holiday for them.

The first description of how Independence Day would be celebrated was in a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776. He described “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations” throughout the United States. However, the term “Independence Day” was not used until 1791.

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both signers of the Declaration of Independence and presidents of the United States, died on July 4, 1826 – exactly 50 years after the adoption of the declaration. It is also important to note that Native Americans lived in the country and each tribe had its own nation and government prior to the European settlers.

 

What do people do on July 4th?

Children at a parade on Independence Day

Children at a parade on Independence Day

It is a day of family celebrations with picnics and barbecues, showing a great deal of emphasis on the American tradition of political freedom. Activities associated with the day include watermelon or hotdog eating competitions and sporting events, such as baseball games, three-legged races, swimming activities and tug-of-war games.

Many people display the American flag outside their homes or buildings. Many communities arrange fireworks that are often accompanied by patriotic music. The most impressive fireworks are shown on television. Some employees use one or more of their vacation days to create a long weekend so that they can escape the heat at their favorite beach or vacation spot.

Independence Day is a patriotic holiday for celebrating the positive aspects of the United States. Many politicians appear at public events to show their support for the history, heritage and people of their country. Above all, people in the United States express and give thanks for the freedom and liberties fought by the first generation of many of today’s Americans.

 

Symbols of July 4th

Fireworks over downtown Miami

Fireworks over downtown Miami

The most common Independence Day symbol is the American flag. Its design is displayed in all possible ways on July 4 and can be seen in front of homes and buildings. Other symbols associated with Independence Day are the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York and the fireworks viewed all over the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

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Memorial Day

Families walk among the graves at Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan, France

Families walk among the graves at Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan, France

Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars. As a marker it typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

By the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as people visited the graves of their deceased relatives in church cemeteries, whether they had served in the military or not. It also became a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family gatherings, fireworks, trips to the beach, and national media events such as the Indianapolis 500 auto race, held since 1911 on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

 

A bit of History

1) Early History

The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the U.S. Civil War. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The first known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. David W. Blight described the day:

“This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the War had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.”

Professor Blight admitted, however, that this event in Charleston did not lead to the establishment of Memorial Day across the country.

The sheer number of dead soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who perished in the civil war meant that burial and memorialization would take on new cultural significance. Particularly under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had already taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began a program of creating national military cemeteries for the Union dead

2) In the North

The friendship between General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, New York, and General John A. Logan, who helped bring attention to the event nationwide, was likely a factor in the holiday’s growth. On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic – the organization for Union Civil War veterans – Logan issued a proclamation that “Decoration Day” should be observed nationwide. It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year; the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle.

Events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state followed suit. The Memorial Day speech became an occasion for veterans, politicians and ministers to commemorate the War – and at first to rehash the atrocities of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism and provided a means for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation. People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the “baptism of blood” on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s much of the rancor was gone, and the speeches praised the brave soldiers both Blue and Gray. By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world.

3) In the South

Evidence exists showing that John Logan “adopted” for the North a pre-existing annual Memorial Day custom that was already in place in the South. This separate tradition of Memorial Day observance which emerged earlier in the South was linked to the Lost Cause and served as the prototype for the national day of memory.  Across the South, associations were founded after the War, many by women, to establish and care for permanent cemeteries for Confederate soldiers, organize commemorative ceremonies and sponsor impressive monuments as a permanent way of remembering the Confederate cause and tradition. The most important was the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

On April 25, 1866 women in Columbus, Mississippi laid flowers at the graves of both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery. The early Confederate Memorial Day celebrations were simple, somber occasions for veterans and their families to honor the day and attend to local cemeteries. Around 1890, there was a shift from this consolatory emphasis on honoring specific soldiers to public commemoration of the Confederate cause. Changes in the ceremony’s hymns and speeches reflect an evolution of the ritual into a symbol of cultural renewal and conservatism in the South.

 Flags at half-staff until noon

Half-staff US flag in Washington DC

Half-staff US flag in Washington DC

On Memorial Day the flag is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.

The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolves not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Name and date

The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day”, which was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.

Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the unofficial beginning of summer.

Traditional observance

Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 pm local time. Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.

For many Americans, the central event is attending one of the thousands of parades held on Memorial Day in large and small cities all over the country. Most of these feature marching bands and an overall military theme with the National Guard and other servicemen participating along with veterans and military vehicles from various wars.

One of the longest-standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, an auto race which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. It runs on the Sunday preceding the Memorial Day holiday. The Coca-Cola 600 stock car race has been held later the same day since 1961. The Memorial Tournament golf event has been held on or close to the Memorial Day weekend since 1976.

Because Memorial Day is generally associated with the start of the summer season, it is common tradition to inaugurate the outdoor cooking season on Memorial Day with a barbecue.

The National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol.  Music is performed, and respect is paid to the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

Start of “summer”

 A foreteaste of summer days

A foreteaste of summer days

Most school districts that had their school year begin in late August will end school on the Friday before this day, while schools that started the school year the day after Labor Day in early September will remain in session until early June.

Across most of the central and southern continental United States, summer-like weather generally does begin reasonably close to Memorial Day time (somewhere between mid-May and early June being the norm). But in the northernmost and westernmost parts of the country, the holiday makes a far less reliable seasonal marker. In these areas, cooler and unsettled spring weather often continues into June. (In the Pacific Northwest, there is a somewhat popular expression that “real” summer begins on the 5th of July.)

Happy Labor Day!

Lily-of-the-valleyMay 1 is a national holiday in France, where people celebrate “la Fête du Travail” (Labor Day). On this day post offices, banks, restaurants and businesses are closed.  Trade unions and other organizations organize parades and demonstrations to campaign for workers rights.

A popular custom wants that people offer a bouquet of lily of the valley flowers. This custom goes back to King Charles IX of France. He was presented with lily of the valley flowers on May 1, 1561. He liked the gift and decided to present lily of the valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1. Around 1900, men started to present a bouquet of lily of the valley flowers to women to express their affection. The flowers are a more general token of appreciation between close friends and family members these days.

The eight-hour working day was officially introduced in France on April 23, 1919, and May 1 became a public holiday. May Day was not observed during World War II. However, May 1 became a public holiday again in 1947. May 1 officially became known as La Fête du Travail (Labor Day) on April 29, 1948. Since then, it has been an occasion to campaign for and celebrate workers’ rights. The day is also known as Labor Day in other parts of the world.

And you, how do you celebrate May Day in your region?