What is a holiday? The word itself comes from the words “holy day.” The earliest holidays we know about were religious in nature--intended to remind people of their duties to their God or whatever else they worshipped. Often they hoped that their days of worship would insure that God remembered them too. The Bible, the Koran, and other sacred books specify certain Holy Days that their followers should observe. Some examples of important religious holidays that are observed today include Yom Kippur--the Jewish Day of Atonement, Ramadan--the Muslim month of fasting and prayer, and Easter--the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But many holidays are not associated with specific religions. Everyone can give thanks at Thanksgiving. Many countries have national holidays, often celebrating the founding of that country. In the United States, people observe July 4th as Independence Day. Veteran’s Day is set aside to honor those who have served in the armed forces to defend the country, and Memorial Day is the day to honor those who died in military service. Mothers Day and Fathers Day remind people to show appreciation to their parents.
When people move to different countries, they bring their holiday celebrations with them. They share them with their neighbors and friends, and other people adopt some of their customs. In the United States, it is not only the Irish who party on Saint Patrick’s Day, not just the Italians who observe Columbus Day. According to the calendar used in many countries, the beginning of the New Year is celebrated on January 1. But the Jewish Rosh Hashanah falls in September. China, Korea, and Viet Nam celebrate the New Year in February. Persians and Hindus observe the beginning of the New Year in March, while for the people of Thailand and Cambodia, the year begins in April. In places where many of the citizens have come from other countries, there is room for a lot of celebrating.
Some holidays are established to get people to do things. Arbor Day was established to encourage people to plant trees. Earth Day was founded to encourage people to clean up the environment. Local communities sponsor similar clean-up days. There are other jobs that don’t seem so hard when they’re turned into a holiday. Two hundred years ago, people made parties out of barn-raisings, quilting bees, and corn husking. Now people get together to paint houses for the elderly, build ramps for the handicapped, and build playgrounds for children, with a picnic or a block party afterward.
Some holidays are much smaller, but they’re still very important. Everyone likes to have their friends remember them on their birthdays. Besides birthdays, families celebrate wedding anniversaries, the first day of school, the last day of school, graduation, and other special events. Some families even have special celebrations for losing a tooth, learning to ride a two-wheeler, learning to swim, or learning to read. These private holidays help to draw family members closer together.