Holidays in America
The major federal, religious, traditional, and informal holidays celebrated in the United States.
* These holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.
Daylight Saving Time (Mar. 9 )
The Ides of March (Mar. 15)
Palm Sunday (Mar. 16)
St. Patrick's Day (Mar. 17)
Spring begins (EDT) (Mar. 20)
Mawlid al-Nabi (Mar. 20)
Good Friday (Mar. 21)
Purim (Mar. 21)
Easter Sunday (Western) (Mar. 23)
Daylight Saving Time (DST) (Mar.9, 2008)
At 2 a.m. on March 9, 2008, groggy Americans will turn their clocks forward one hour, marking the beginning of Daylight Saving Time (DST).
The federal law that established "daylight time" in the United States does not require any area to observe daylight saving time. But if a state chooses to observe DST, it must follow the starting and ending dates set by the law. From 1986 to 2006 this was the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, but starting in 2007, it is observed from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, adding about a month to daylight saving time.
The Ides of March (Mar.15, 2008)
The soothsayer's warning to Julius Caesar, "Beware the Ides of March," has forever imbued that date with a sense of foreboding. But in Roman times the expression "Ides of March" did not necessarily evoke a dark mood—it was simply the standard way of saying "March 15." The term Ides comes from the earliest Roman calendar, organized around three days of its months, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days:
Kalends (1st day of the month)
Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months)
Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)
Palm Sunday (Mar.16, 2008)
Palm Sunday, in the Christian calendar, the Sunday before Easter, sixth and last Sunday in Lent, and the first day of Holy Week. It recalls the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding upon an ass, when his followers shouted “Hosanna” and scattered palms in his path. In the Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches, ceremonies of the day are the blessing and distribution of crosses made from palm leaves and the recitation of one of the three synoptic accounts of the Passion. Many wear crosses made of the palm.
St. Patrick's Day (March 17, 2008)
A secular holiday, St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated with far greater fanfare in Boston or New York than it was in Galway or Dublin. St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, has been honored in America since the first days of the nation. Perhaps the most notable observance is the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City.
In Ireland, banks, stores, and businesses were closed on March 17, in fact until the 1970s, pubs were even prohibited from opening. The day was primarily celebrated as a religious feast day. In Ireland St. Patrick's feast day was a time to attend church and celebrate in a low-key manner. Corned beef and cabbage was the traditional meal—the prohibition against eating meat during Lent was suspended for the day.
In the United States, however, St. Patrick's Day is a secular extravaganza celebrating everything Irish. The symbols of shamrocks, leprechauns and wearing green are shared by all, even the non Irish.
Spring Begins (Mar.20, 2008)
The Rite of Spring theVernal equinox
March 20, 2008, is a date that most of us recognize as symbolic of changing seasons. As we welcome spring, people south of the equator are actually gearing up for the cooler temperatures of autumn.
What Happens at the Equinox?
Far from being an arbitrary indicator of the changing seasons, March 20 (March 21 in some years) is significant for astronomical reasons. On March 20, 2008, at precisely 1:48 A.M. EDT (March 20, 05:48 Universal Time), the Sun will cross directly over the Earth's equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, this is the moment of the autumnal equinox.
Equinox Means "Equal Night"
Translated literally, equinox means "equal night." Because the sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinoxes. A second equinox occurs each year on September 22 or 23; in 2008, it will be on September 22 at 11:44 A.M. EDT (15:44 UT). This date will mark the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the vernal equinox in the Southern (vernal denotes "spring").
Reasons for the Seasons
These brief but monumental moments owe their significance to the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. Because of the tilt, we receive the Sun's rays most directly in the summer. In the winter, when we are tilted away from the Sun, the rays pass through the atmosphere at a greater slant, bringing lower temperatures. If the Earth rotated on an axis perpendicular to the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, there would be no variation in day lengths or temperatures throughout the year, and we would not have seasons.
Rituals and Traditions
Modern astronomy aside, people have recognized the vernal equinox for thousands of years. There is no shortage of rituals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring. Many early peoples celebrated for the basic reason that their food supplies would soon be restored. The date is significant in Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox.
The first day of spring also marks the beginning of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The celebration lasts 13 days and is rooted in the 3,000-year-old tradition of Zoroastrianism.
Mawlid al-Nabi* (12 Rabi 1) (Mar. 20, 2008)
Prophet Muhammad's Birthday
This religious holiday celebrates the birthday of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is fixed as the 12th day of the month of Rabi I in the Islamic calendar. Mawlid means birthday of a holy figure and al-Nabi means prophet. The day is commemorated with recollections of Muhammad's life. Fundamentalist Muslims, such as the Wahhabi sect, do not celebrate it.
Good Friday (Mar. 21, 2008)
This religious holiday of the anniversary of Jesus' death on the cross. According to the Gospels, Jesus was put to death on the Friday before Easter Day. Since the early church Good Friday has been observed by fasting and penance. Other forms of observance include prayer and meditation at the Stations of the Cross, a succession of 14 images, usually on wooden crosses, depicting Christ's crucifixion and the events leading up to it.
In the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican traditions, the celebration of the Eucharist is suspended; liturgical service involves veneration of the cross, the Passion narrative from the Gospel of St. John, and communion using bread and wine consecrated the previous day, Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday (traditional English name for Thursday of Holy Week, so named because it is considered the anniversary of the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper (that is, the mandatum novum or “new commandment”). In some churches, Jesus's washing of the disciples' feet is symbolically reenacted. In Great Britain there is a survival in the distribution by the sovereign of special “maundy money” to certain of the poor at Westminster Abbey. In the Roman Catholic Church, Maundy Thursday is a general communion day; a single Mass is sung, in the evening, and a Host, consecrated for the morrow, is placed in a specially adorned chapel of repose. The altars are stripped bare until the Easter vigil mass.
Purim (Feast of Lots)* (Mar. 21, 2008)
This religious holiday, that usually falls in March, is a day of joy and feasting, celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from a massacre planned by the wicked Persian minister, Haman. According to the Book of Esther, the Jewish queen Esther interceded with her husband, King Ahasuerus, to spare the life of her uncle, Mordecai, and Haman was hanged on the same gallows he had built for Mordecai. The holiday is marked by the public readings of the Book of Esther (the Megillah).
The traditional observances of Purim include feasting, gifts of charity to the poor, and gifts of food among friends. It is also unique among Jewish holidays in that adults are encouraged to drink until they can't tell the difference between the phrases "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai." Other popular activities include staging comedic plays, expounding on the Torah in humorous ways, dressing up in costumes, holding beauty contests, and marching in parades.
As with many holidays, Purim has a food of its own: hamantaschen. Literally "Haman's pockets," these triangular cookies are said to resemble Haman's three-cornered hat. These traditionally contain poppy-seed or prune fillings, but other fruit fillings are also popular.
Purim takes place on the 14th day of Adar, the 12th month of the Jewish calendar. (In the case of a leap year, it takes place in the 13th month, Adar II, while a minor holiday, Purim Katan, takes place in Adar I.) The carnival-like atmosphere of Purim, wearing of costumes, and bringing gifts of food door-to-door sometimes leads to it being referred to as the "Jewish Mardi Gras" or "Jewish Halloween" by non-Jews.
Easter (Western) (Mar. 23, 2008)
Most years Western Christian churches and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on different dates.
Symbols and Traditions
Christians celebrate Easter to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some aspects of modern Easter celebrations, however, pre-date Christianity.
Ancient Spring Goddess
According to the Venerable Bede, Easter derives its name from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. A month corresponding to April had been named "Eostremonat," or Eostre's month, leading to "Easter" becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it. Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.
It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.
In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent. Eggs laid during that time were often boiled or otherwise preserved. Eggs were thus a mainstay of Easter meals, and a prized Easter gift for children and servants.
In addition, eggs have been viewed as symbols of new life and fertility through the ages. It is believed that for this reason many ancient cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, used eggs during their spring festivals.
Many traditions and practices have formed around Easter eggs. The coloring of eggs is an established art, and eggs are often dyed, painted, and otherwise decorated. Eggs were also used in various holiday games: parents would hide eggs for children to find, and children would roll eggs down hills. These practices live on in Easter egg hunts and egg rolls. The most famous egg roll takes place on the White House lawn every year.
Different Easter Egg Traditions
Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and in Greece painted eggs bright red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Hollow eggs (created by piercing the shell with a needle and blowing out the contents) were decorated with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious figures in Armenia.
Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday, and hung hollow eggs on trees. Austrians placed tiny plants around the egg and then boiled them. When the plants were removed, white patterns were created.
The most elaborate Easter egg traditions appear to have emerged in Eastern Europe. In Poland and Ukraine, eggs were often painted silver and gold. Pysanky (to design or write) eggs were created by carefully applying wax in patterns to an egg. The egg was then dyed, wax would be reapplied in spots to preserve that color, and the egg was boiled again in other shades. The result was a multi-color striped or patterned egg.
The Easter Bunny
Hares and rabbits have long been symbols of fertility. The inclusion of the hare into Easter customs appears to have originated in Germany, where tales were told of an "Easter hare" who laid eggs for children to find. German immigrants to America -- particularly Pennsylvania -- brought the tradition with them and spread it to a wider public. They also baked cakes for Easter in the shape of hares, and may have pioneered the practice of making chocolate bunnies and eggs.
Easter cards arrived in Victorian England, when a stationer added a greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. According to American Greetings, Easter is now the fourth most popular holiday for sending cards, behind Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day.
After their baptisms, early Christians wore white robes all through Easter week to indicate their new lives. Those had already been baptized wore new clothes instead to symbolize their sharing a new life with Christ.
In Medieval Europe, churchgoers would take a walk after Easter Mass, led by a crucifix or the Easter candle. Today these walks endure as Easter Parades. People show off their spring finery, including lovely bonnets decorated for spring.