AMERICAN FEDERAL HOLIDAYS

Versione italiana

You know what? Once in the US, I obviously thought we could take the chance to visit most part of America so that we made plans to see many places, mostly during the American federal holidays.

First of all we planned to go to the National Parks, California from San Francisco to San Diego, Great Lakes of North America and Niagara Falls. But so far we’ve been to New York City, Washington DC, Charleston (SC), Miami Beach and Atlanta. As you’ll see, American federal holidays are largely set on Monday or Friday, certainly to have long weekends. Very smart and as it seems like it makes sense! Not by chance we set our small family trips primarily during the major holidays.

Obviously, some American federal holidays are on specific days such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July and Veterans Day. But let’s see which American federal holidays are and their meaning.

LABOUR DAY

First of all, let’s start with the Labour Day, the first among the American federal holidays we find according to the work calendar. It is always celebrated on the first Monday of September, that marks the unofficial conclusion of the Summer.

It definitely celebrates the American Worker Movement and all the people that worked to obtain laws about the 8 hours working day and, as a matter of fact, contributed to the growth of the country.

Seems like they chose the first Monday of September because of the warm weather and also because it’s halfway between the celebrations of the 4th of July and Thanksgiving Day.

That’s the schedule of the celebration: in the morning they usually set a parade to show the solidarity and the strength of the organized work. Later on it comes the picnic time in which the unions raise funds with the sale of tickets.

Labour Day VS May Day

Do you know why Americans do not celebrate the Labour Day on May 1st as in the rest of Europe? There is a very specific reason why, among American federal holidays, this is not celebrated on the same day.

In 1885 the American Federation of Labor meets to elaborate the proposal to shorten the working day to 8 hours. Finally it proposes a day for the entry into force of the resolution set for May 1st, 1886.

May 1st is inspired by an ancient European folk festival known as May Day, which afterwards became the International Workers’ Day.

That’s the reason why they thought about May 1st as an alternative to the celebration of the working day. During the negotiations, they allowed the right to a coordinated strike action for the approval of the request. So, at the end, the strike was scheduled for May 1st.

On May 4th, 1886, at Haymarket Square, Chicago, a peaceful demonstration takes place in support of workers on strike for the right to a short working day and as a reaction to the killing of some workers by the police the day before.

American federal holidays: Labour Day
Revolt scene at Haymarket Square, Chicago

Unfortunately, this demonstration ends in tragedy: a stranger throws a bomb at the police, killing a policeman as a consequence. In the chaos, many civilians and policemen die because of friendly fire.

In the debate to establish the date on which to celebrate the Labor Day, May 1st assumed, therefore, a negative connotation, due to its proximity to the “Haymarket Massacre”. Of course they did not want May 1st to become the commemoration of the “Haymarket Affair”.

Thus, in 1894, the United States officially adopted the September date as one of the American federal holidays to celebrate Labour Day.

COLUMBUS DAY

American federal holidays: Columbus Day
One of the caravels on which Columbus sailed – model

Between the American federal holidays, Columbus Day commemorates the anniversary of the discovery of America, when Christopher Columbus, navigator and explorer from the Republic of Genoa, landed in the New World on October 12th, 1492. It is celebrated in many Americans’ countries.

In the United States, Columbus Day falls on the second Monday of October.

That’s how it’s called in other Countries:

  • Costa Rica: Día de las Culturas
  • Bahamas: Discovery Day
  • Venezuela and Nicaragua: Día de la Resistenza Indígena 
  • Belize and Uruguay: Día de las Americas
  • Ecuador: Día de la Interculturalidad
  • Bolivia: Día de la Liberación, de la Identidad y de la Interculturalidad
  • Cile: Día del Encuentro de Dos Mundos
  • Argentina: Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural
  • Honduras, Mexico: Día de la Raza (in Mexico it becomes Día de la Raza Iberoamericana)
  • Perù: Día de los Pueblos Originarios y del Diálogo Intercultural
  • Dominican Republic: Día de la Identidad y Diversidad Cultural or Día del Encuentro entre dos Culturas,
  • El Salvador, Spain: Día de la Hispanidad (in Spain it overlaps with the Holy celebration of Virgen del Pilar)
  • Italy: Giornata Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo

The name Día de la Raza is not accepted by all South American countries, because “Raza” means only the Spanish race excluding, consequently, the natives, the Afro-Carribean and the mongrels. In fact, this celebration was aimed at celebrating Hispanic influence in Latin America.

As can be seen from the various names attributed by the Latin countries, this day is celebrated by indigenous activists from all over South America as a counterpart to the Columbus Day of North America, or as a celebration of native races and cultures and their resistance to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.

VETERANS DAY

American federal holidays: Veterans Day
Fort George Wright Veterans Cemetery

Among the American federal holidays we find Veterans Day, that is celebrated every year on November 11th, it is a fixed date. It honors the military veterans who served the United States in the armed forces during the World War I.

Formally World War I ended on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 o’clock in the year 1918, when the armistice with Germany became effective.

Initially the Americans celebrated the Armistice Day, which in 1954 was renamed Veterans Day.

THANKSGIVING DAY

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, and it’s clearly one of the most important American federal holidays. At first, it was conceived just as a day to give thanks for the blessing of the harvest received during the past year, yet it also took on another meaning.

But let’s take a look at the story behind this holiday, because it shows controversial implications, likewise Columbus Day.

On September 6, 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers (102 pioneers among men, women, and children) sailed from Plymouth, England, aboard the Mayflower. They were persecuted for having adhered to a strictly Calvinist Christianity, therefore they decided to leave.

American federal holidays: Thanksgiving Day
“Mayflower e porzh-mor Aberplymm” gant William Halsall, 1882

A FEW WORDS ABOUT CALVINISM

Calvinism, unlike Catholicism, supports the exclusively spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the regulating principle of worship.

The regulating principle of worship maintains that the worship that man addresses to God must follow only and exclusively what God himself prescribes in the Holy Scriptures. As a result, that’s what came out:

  • What does not command the Holy Scriptures is forbidden.
  • What is not prohibited by the Holy Scriptures is granted.

THE PILGRIM FATHERS AND THE NATIVES

As the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the shores of Massachusetts, winter was coming. The long journey was not an easy one, hence, many of them did not survive.

They planned to grow the same vegetables they used to eat back in England, therefore they brought with them those seeds to start new crops. Unfortunately, they found an inhospitable and wild territory, that happened to be inhabited by the Native Americans. As a consequence of the harsh climate, the harvest was not enough to feed the whole community and many of them, eventually, did not survive the winter.

Finally, the Native Americans came to their rescue, teaching to the Pilgrim Fathers what animals to breed (turkeys) and what products to grow (maize). In this way the new colony was able to survive and prosper, all thanks to the Native Americans, indeed.

American federal holidays: Thanksgiving Day
Products of the earth typical of America

Moreover, to give thanks to God for the abundance of the first harvest, the settlers made a feast to which they invited even the Native Americans, who actually had helped them.

Nevertheless, in June 1676, an official proclamation of Massachusetts called a day of celebration to thank God for the prosperity enjoyed by the community and to celebrate the victory against the pagan natives.

Precisely those same pagan natives who had made all this possible.

MEMORIAL DAY

Here is another celebration with a definitely patriotic character among the American federal holidays: Memorial Day or Decoration Day, that commemorates, indeed, all the people who died by serving America in the armed forces. It is celebrated on the last Monday of May and it sure marks the unofficial beginning of the summer holidays.

You must know that in the United States schools end in late May and start again at the end of August. Or at least so it happens here in North Carolina. Consequently, the school period slides a month behind Italy.

Many people go to the cemeteries to pay homage to their loved ones who have died in the war and some volunteers place an American flag on the graves of the military.

However, the practice of decorating the tombs with flowers and flag is an ancient custom that dates back to the period of the Civil War (fought between 1861 and 1865), also known as the American Civil War for the abolition of slavery.

American federal holidays: Memorial Day
William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the American Armed Forces during the Civil War

INDEPENDENCE DAY OR 4th OF JULY

Fianlly, here is the most patriotic of American federal holidays: Independence Day celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence dated July 4th, 1776. With this act the 13 American colonies separated definitively from the government of Great Britain.

American federal holidays: Independence Day or 4th of July
Declaration of Independence

A BIT OF HISTORY

Actually, the detachment of the colonies took place on July 2nd, 1776. In fact, on that day the Congress voted for independence, therefore, the Declaration of Independence was drafted, mainly by Thomas Jefferson. On July 4th the document was finally approved.

The 4th of July festivities include parades during the morning, picnics and barbecues, baseball games, political speeches and fireworks in the evening.

CONCLUSIONS

Thanks to this post I have actually documented on American federal holidays and traditions to be able to tell you ^ _ ^

I’m glad I did, because I think it’s important to know the traditions of other countries, especially if it’s the country where you moved with your family. Each country has its own culture dictated by the history that has lived and has accordingly marked its path to date.

Anyhow, knowing other cultures opens our mind and allows us to understand a different people from our own; above all this is a process of personal enrichment and growth.

Do remember that diversity is a wealth that, therefore, must be embraced and accepted as such.

See you soon,

Arianna