Who doesn’t love an excuse to celebrate? While it’s no secret that holidays like Cinco de Mayo have their origins abroad, many Americans overlook the “American” holidays that originate overseas too.
1: Mardi Gras
Place of origin: Medieval Europe
Date celebrated: February or March
Mardi Gras is a multi-thousand-year-old holiday that started as a pagan celebration of spring and fertility. Upon Christianity’s arrival in Rome, leaders decided to transform Mardi Gras into a religious holiday. Doing so allowed Christians to indulge in fatty foods before the required 40-day Lent fast between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
How Americans Celebrate Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras has lost much of its religious significance in modern-day American culture. New Orleans is the hub of Mardi Gras festivities, where people dress in elaborate costumes and masks, throw beads from parade floats, and indulge in food and drinks.
2: St. Patrick’s Day
Country of origin: Ireland
Date celebrated: March 17th
St. Patrick’s Day has over 1,000 years of history and was created to remember the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. The Irish praised St. Patrick for bringing Christianity to their country. As the legend goes, St. Patrick taught people about the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) by using a three-leaf Irish clover species called the shamrock.
How Americans Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
Modern-day St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. has little to do with religion and everything to do with drinks, parties, and green rivers. Cities across the country host St. Patrick’s Day parades. Chicago is especially famous for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration, for it dyes its river green.
3: April Fool’s Day
Place of origin: Europe
Date celebrated: April 1st
No one knows exactly when or how April Fool’s Day started, but one thing is certain: It didn’t initiate in the United States. Some historians speculate that April Fool’s Day began when France moved from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, confusing residents about the date in a world without TVs and the Internet. Others believe it may have ties to the Hilaria festival in ancient Rome, where Cybele cult members dressed in costume, mocking citizens.
How Americans Celebrate April Fool’s Day
April Fool’s Day allows prankster-loving Americans to pull out their best moves — within reason, of course. Big-name businesses often join in on the fun, with Burger King’s 1998 April Fool’s Day prank being a particularly memorable moment. Burger King announced they created a Whopper designed for left-handed customers. The result? Thousands of customers across the U.S. requested a left-handed Whopper that didn’t exist.
4: Valentine’s Day
Country of origin: Potentially ancient Rome
Date celebrated: February 14th
The exact origins of Valentine’s Day are up for debate, but it has European Christian roots. According to the Catholic Church, there are at least three martyred saints named St. Valentine or St. Valentinus, each with their own story. A favorite theory is that Valentine’s Day was named after a priest named Valentine who performed secret marriages for young couples in love even though Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for young men since he believed single men were better soldiers.
How Americans Celebrate Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day has become a highly commercialized holiday in the United States, with lovers exchanging flowers, candy, and gifts. Restaurant reservations are often necessary to land a table on this day. In recent years, Valentine’s Day has become a more inclusive holiday, with many calling it the “Day of Love and Friendship.”
Region of origin: Europe
Date celebrated: December 25th
Christmas originally wasn’t a day to celebrate Jesus’ birth, a date that the bible doesn’t specify. Instead, celebrations around Christmas time started when Europeans would rejoice after the winter solstice, knowing longer daylight hours and warmer weather were ahead.
In the fourth century, Pope Julius I decided Americans should celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Not knowing what date Jesus was born, he chose December 25th, likely with the belief that it would catch on better, given that Christians were already celebrating the winter solstice.
How Americans Celebrate Christmas
Christian and many non-Christan Americans alike celebrate Christmas, with traditions varying between households. Adorning homes with lights and Christmas trees are common practice, as is leaving presents from Santa Clause for children and cooking lots of food and sweets, causing many to pack on Christmas pounds.
Country of origin: Egypt
Date celebrated: Varies between March and April
According to the Old Testament when describing the Last Supper, Easter has ties to the Jewish Passover and the Exodus from Egypt. Many Christians see Easter as one of the most important holidays in their religion, as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
How Americans Celebrate Easter
Christians often attend church on Easter, and the most devout attend church during Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter Day. Families with young children often hide Easter eggs and Easter baskets for their children to find, telling them that they’re from the Easter bunny.
Place of origin: Celtic region (modern-day Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France)
Date celebrated: October 31st
Halloween originated when the Celts celebrated the end of their summer harvest, knowing that a cold, dark winter was upon them. The original festival was called Samhain, and the Celts believed that the worlds of the living and the dead converged on the night of October 31st, with ghosts arriving on Earth. So, they’d dress in costumes to ward off the ghosts, for the living believed the ghosts would damage their crops and stir up trouble.
How Americans Celebrate Halloween
Most Americans are unaware of the Celtic traditions of Halloween, thinking instead it has initial ties to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, thanks to movies like Coco. The practice of wearing costumes has remained to this day, though it’s primarily for children wanting to trick-or-treat. Pumpkin carving is a classic American Halloween activity, and costume parties geared toward adults are also popular.
8: Cinco de Mayo
Country of origin: Mexico
Date celebrated: May 5th
Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday commemorating May 5, 1862, when Mexico won the Battle of Puebla against the French. It was a big deal for Mexico, given France had about three times as many troops.
How Americans Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is a gold mine for Mexican restaurants in the U.S., with Americans loading up on orders of tacos, burritos, guacamole, and other Mexican favorites. Bars and clubs also capitalize on the opportunity. Some cities even host Cinco de Mayo street festivals.
Did You Know?
Many Americans assume Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, but that’s on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo isn’t even a federal holiday in Mexico, as celebrations primarily happen in Puebla state, where the Battle of Puebla occurred.
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