Besides Thanksgiving Day there are seven other major holidays which might be considered uniquely American—although in some cases, other nations observe similar holidays. In addition to the widely recognized holidays listed below, two Sundays are also observed in special ways. One is the second Sunday in May, which is always Mother's Day, a day on which children honor their mothers, give them gifts, or perhaps take them to a restaurant for dinner. The other is the third Sunday in June, which is Father's Day, and children honor their fathers in some special way. These are included in any holiday list, even though every Sunday is a day of rest and recreation for most Americans.
The seven major "American" holidays in calendar order are:
Martin Luther King Day. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a black clergyman who is ranked among the greatest of black Americans because of his crusade during the 1950s and 1960s to win full civil rights for his people. Preaching nonviolence, much in the same way as had Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi of India, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out and campaigned tirelessly to rid the United States of traditions and laws that forces on black Americans the status of second-class citizens. Among these laws were those in some states which required black people to take back seats in buses or which obstructed voting by blacks. The world was shocked when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. Ever since, special memorial services have marked his
birthday on January 15. By vote of Congress, the third Monday of every January, beginning in 1986, is now a federal holiday in Dr. King's honor.
Presidents' Day. Until the mid-1970s, the birthday of George Washington, first president
of the United States (February 22) was observed as a federal holiday. In addition, the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (February 12), president during the Civil War (1861-1865), was observed as a holiday in most states. In the 1970s, Congress declared that in order to honor all past presidents of the United States, a single holiday, to be called Presidents' Day, would be observed on the third Monday in February. In many states, however, the holiday continues to be known as George Washington's birthday.
Memorial Day. This holiday, on the fourth Monday of every May, is a day on which
Americans honor the dead. Originally a day on which flags or flowers were placed on graves
of soldiers who died in the American Civil War, it has become a day on which the dead of all wars and all other dead are remembered the same way. In many communities, special
ceremonies are held in cemeteries or at monuments for the war dead by veterans of military services. Some hold parades and others hold memorial services or special programs in churches, schools or other public meeting places.
The "Memorial Day weekend" is also considered the beginning of the summer season. In many places, the weekend marks the opening of public beaches and pubic swimming pools. People who own summer homes quite often spend that weekend there. In the past Memorial Day was the day on which people stopped wearing their heavier, warmer clothes and started wearing lighter, more summery apparel.
Independence Day. This day is regarded as the birthday of the United States as a free and independent nations. Most Americans simply call it the "Fourth of July," on which date it always falls. The holiday recalls the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. At that time, the people of the 13 British colonies located along the eastern coast of what is now the United States were involved in a war over what they considered unjust treatment by the king and parliament in Britain. The war began in 1775. As the war continued, the colonists realized that they were fighting not just for better treatment; they were fighting for freedom from England's rule. The Declaration of Independence, signed by leaders from the colonies, stated this clearly,
and for the first time in an official document the colonies were referred to as the United States of America.
Generally, picnics with patriotic speeches and parades are held all over the United States on the Fourth of July. It is also a day on which fireworks displays fill the skies in the evening. The flying of flags, which also takes place on Memorial Day and some other holidays, is common. In 1876 and 1976, special centennial and bicentennial celebrations of Independence Day were held across the nation.
Labor Day. This holiday, which always is observed on the first Monday of September, has been a federal holiday since 1894, but was observed in some places before that day as a
result of a campaign by an early organization of workers called the Knights of Labor. Its
purpose is to honor the nation's working people. In many cities the day is marked by parades of working people representing the labor unions. For most Americans, it also marks the end of the summer season, during which most of them take vacations—although vacations can be taken at other times of the year. Public schools and other schools below the college level open just before or just after Labor Day.
Columbus Day. This day commemorates Italian navigator Christopher Columbus' landing in the New World on October 12, 1492. Most nations of the Americas observe this holiday on October 12, but in the United States, annual observances take place on the second Monday in October. The major celebration of the day takes place in New York City, which holds a huge parade each year.
Veteran's Day. This holiday was originally called Armistice Day and was established to honor those Americans who had served in the First World War. It falls on November 11, the day on which that war ended in 1918. It honors veterans of all the wars in which the United States has been involved. Organizations of war veterans hold parades or other special ceremonies, and the president or other high official places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C. There are soldiers buried there from each war the United States has fought in since World War I.