The Fourth of July, known as Independence Day, is the nation's birthday. Many Americans fly the national flag, the Stars and Stripes, from their homes and businesses. Communities sponsor parades and picnics during the day and at night there are concerts and fireworks displays.

Thanksgiving, held on the fourth Thursday of November, is a time to spend with family. The holiday commemorates a feast the Pilgrims shared with the local Wampanoag people in the 17th century. The feast was held in celebration of the bountiful harvest that saved the Pilgrims from starvation. Traditionally, Americans enjoy a dinner of roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes and pumpkin pie. Some say grace before the meal to give thanks for all their blessings.

Christmas is a very important holiday in the United States, not just for Christians. People decorate their houses with coloured lights, hang ornaments on a Christmas tree and exchange gifts and cards. Easter Sunday is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most Christians go to church on this day. Children decorate eggs and adults give them chocolates shaped like eggs, chickens or rabbits.

National holidays include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honours the civil rights activist who struggled to win civil rights for African-Americans through non-violence. Presidents' Day combines the celebrations of George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays. Today, Presidents' Day acknowledges all the American presidents.

   Did you know?
Gift-giving is not restricted to Christmastime. Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day and Valentine's Day are usually celebrated by presenting gifts, flowers and cards to loved ones.
Memorial Day honours the war dead of the United States. It was first held after the Civil War. Special ceremonies are held in cemeteries, churches and at war memorials. Labor Day recognizes working people. Some cities and unions sponsor Labor Day parades. Veterans' Day was originally called Armistice Day. It began as a day to honour Americans who fought in the First World War. Today it honours all veterans.

Some regions hold special festivals. Mardi Gras is an important celebration in New Orleans, where people hold large parties and parades. St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in New York City, Boston and Savannah.

January 1 New Year's Day
3rd Monday in January Martin Luther King Jr. Day
3rd Monday in February Presidents' Day
4th Monday in May Memorial Day
July 4 Independence Day
1st Monday in September Labor Day
November 11 Veterans' Day
4th Thursday in November Thanksgiving
December 25 Christmas Day