Why do Americans celebrate other folks’ holidays with such glee? St. Patrick’s Day is a biggie here, as is Cinco de Mayo. Other national or ethnic holidays that we seem to enjoy are Oktoberfest and Chinese New Year. Is there anything these all have in common? Do we just like grabbing other folks’ traditions because we have so few that are uniquely relevant to the USA?
Our Fourth of July is a holiday unique to the United States, but a great many other countries celebrate their own independence days: France has Bastille Day, the Philippines, Zambia, Namibia, Belize, Malta, Jamaica, Peru, and many more have a specific day every year when they celebrate their independence from a previous ruler. We have some great parties on our Independece Day, with good food and fireworks as integral parts of the traditional observance.
We have Labor Day, originally started in 1882 in New York City, but now recognized as a national holiday. Originally conceived as a day to honor the workers, we now celebrate it as an end-of-summer ritual with the last picnics and cookouts of the year.
Thanksgiving is not unique to the US. Canada has Thanksgiving also, and most countries have something similar to acknowledge the end of the harvest season.
New Year’s Day is an official holiday in the US, although the celebrations are all the night before and usually involve large quantities of alcohol.
President’s Day is observed by government workers and bankers, but doesn’t mean much to the rest of us. It’s the conglomeration of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays. When I was young, we celebrated these two Presidents, considered by many to be our greatest, but kids today don’t seem to have a clue what President’s Day is all about.
Memorial Day, begun to honor US military personnel who died in service to their country, is a day of parades and cookouts. It celebrates the beginning of summer, with students just finishing their school year.
Honoring the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland, and a feast day in the Catholic Calendar. Here it is not a holiday, but we have parades, everyone wears green, and there’s a lot of drinking. Most of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations I’ve encountered here also involve a lot of drinking — Dos Equis and Tequila, anyone? And Oktoberfest, of course, is all about beer. Chinese New Year here is feasting and firecrackers.
Maybe, with our Puritan roots, we Americans just need an excuse for a good party. . .