Christmas time is the most anticipated holiday season in the United States. Although most Americans celebrate the holiday in terms of religious significance, those with no religious affiliation also dedicate the season to spending quality time with family, embracing the giving spirit, and indulging in delicious delights.
“The holidays” is the term that Americans often use to describe the time around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Thanksgiving is on the fourth Thursday in November and dates to when the Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated a successful harvest in the 1600s. Many Americans greet others with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” as to not offend anyone without religious affiliation.
Black Friday Shopping
Americans love a good deal and Christmas shopping is not taken lightly in the United States. “Black Friday” is the day after Thanksgiving that is notorious for being the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Shops will open their doors to the crazed shoppers at various times, but usually around 3 a.m. After a typically overindulged Thanksgiving meal, the most determined shoppers will often spend their Thanksgiving evening lining up outside their preferred shops in hopes that they will receive the best deals for their desired purchases. The media often portrays it as a frenzy filled, chaotic, and occasionally dangerous endeavor. The rumours are true, there have been deaths associated with “Black Friday” shopping. However generally, the most painful part of the day includes long checkout cues and full parking lots.
Americans love to get into the holiday spirit with Christmas decorations. The decor includes a wreath on the front door. The typical wreath is made with fresh pine tree branches and a simple red ribbon bow. Some wreaths can be quite elaborate with various ornaments, colored ribbon, and flowers. The fresh fragrance of pine combined with the cold, crisp air as you walk in the door brings about feelings of nostalgia for many Americans.
Christmas lights are extremely popular in the United States. Most citizens partake in decorating their houses in as elaborate fashion as their budgets will allow. This can vary from a few simple dangling lights to a plethora of various colored and shaped lights covering each inch, to the extent that you can have trouble distinguishing the colour of the house. One of the most comical American Christmas traditions would include keeping the Christmas lights on the house throughout the entire year. This occurs in more rural areas as some families refuse to take down the Christmas decorations once Christmas ends. Whether this is done in terms of laziness or pure “Christmas Spirit” is often debated.
Christmas light touring of surrounding neighborhoods and cities is a popular activity in the United States. The group will marvel in the splendour and beauty of the decorations and levels of commitment households put forth
After the Thanksgiving holiday, many Americans will purchase and decorate their Christmas trees. Finding the perfect Christmas tree can prove to be an all-day affair for many families. First, the tree must be selected. Some households prefer to use artificial trees. Others will search around the local pop up Christmas Tree vendor for hours debating which tree would suit their living area properly. You occasionally meet a family that insists on going into the forest to find the perfect Christmas tree and chopping it down themselves. Second, the decoration commences. Lights, ornaments, tinsel, strings of popcorn, and candy canes. The tree is not complete without placing the star at the top.
Santa Claus is an iconic figure in the United States. Not only is he displayed in every window shop and television commercial during the holiday season, but he is often referred to by parents throughout the entire year. If a child has been misbehaving, parents will often remind the child that they will be placed on the “naughty list” and therefore receive coal in their stockings on Christmas.
Some families go to the extent of having one of Santa’s helpers visible in the living areas of the house throughout the entire year. The helper is usually displayed as an elf. The elf is responsible for keeping an eye on each person to make sure they’re behaving and relaying behaviour back to Santa, who resides with Mrs. Claus in the North Pole.
Turkey is the iconic food staple for the Thanksgiving holiday so many Americans will prepare ham or roast beef for Christmas. Sweet potato casserole, a dish incorporating baked sweet potato and marshmallow, is usually included in the meal. Mashed potato, gravy, and green bean casserole are also regular dishes served. Green bean casserole is a dish consisting of green beans and cream of mushroom sauce, baked with a crunchy topping of friend onions. You will usually find a pumpkin, apple, and pecan pie on every Christmas counter for dessert.
Date: December 24th
For Americans that celebrate Christmas in a religious fashion, Christmas Eve will often include a church service. After church the family will have a gathering to exchange gifts and enjoy a meal. In anticipation of Santa’s arrival, children will prepare a plate of cookies and a glass of milk to refuel the energy of Santa Claus. Some children will leave carrots for his reindeer. Parents put the children to bed early and insist that they stay in bed as to not disturb Santa.
Date: December 25th
Christmas morning begins with overflowing excitement from children as they awake to find presents under the Christmas tree. The excitement carries on throughout the day and an early dinner with extended family and friends begins. An evening of games, egg nog, and relaxed conversation is enjoyed by all.
For the entertainment of sports enthusiasts, there is always a Christmas Day National Basketball League game televised between favourite teams throughout the sport.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are both considered as federal public holidays.
Unlike Commonwealth countries, Boxing Day is not highly recognised and celebrated in the United States although it is a federal public holiday.
Many Americans experience a snowy and cold season, also known as a “white Christmas”. There are several winter activities to partake in including sledding, ice skating, snowman building, and ice sculpting competitions. Businesses throughout participating cities will have a competition as to who can sculpt the most brilliant, intricate, and sometimes comical ice figurine. For Americans living in colder climates each winter activity is usually followed by a toasty cup of hot chocolate and a gathering around the fireplace.
Christmas is not the only significant festivity taking place in December. There are other 2 celebrations that are commonly observed:
Hanukkah or Chanukah is an 8-day holiday observed by the Jewish community in December, but the actual dates vary depending on the year as it follows the Hebrew calendar. “The festival of lights,” as it is also known, commemorates the “rededication” of the Holy Temple to the service of God, after a small group of Jews drove away the Greek forces that had settled in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BC.
The main event is the daily lighting of one of the candles of the nine-branched candelabrum called the Menorah. The story says that when the small group of rebels took back the Holy Temple they found there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted 8 days.
Today, it’s not uncommon to exchange gifts during this time. However, celebrations include different prayers, singing, eating the traditional Hanukkah dishes and playing with the dreidel (a 4-sided spinning top).
Kwanzaa is a holiday created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karena amidst the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, to give the African-American community a chance to reconnect with their cultural and historical heritage and as a response to the commercialization of Christmas. Many African-Americans celebrate both festivities as Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday.
It starts on December 26th and lasts 7 days, each dedicated to one of the following principles: Unity, Self-determination, Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. Every night a candle is lit on the kinara (7-branch candle holder) for each of these principles.
Traditions include exchanging gifts and a feast on the 31st, which often includes dishes from different African countries.
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