This is an extract of my article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book As American as Apple Pie !
In the travel series View America, this book narrates events and facts that are common to the entire nation.
Man's migration to America, ancient Indian cultures, New France, the French and Indian War, the 13 original Colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, the Civil War, American territorial expansion, the American Flag, American holidays, and the lighter side of... old US Laws!
This e-book is illustrated with more than 70 full-sized photos and maps.
Some American holidays and special days seem to have no counterpart elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, they are historically and deeply ingrained in the American culture. Let's therefore subject most American holidays and special days to some deeper scrutiny.
Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd. According to an ancient rural legend, on this day the groundhog leaves his winter nest to find out what the weather is going to be like. If it cannot see its own shadow (and therefore the sun doesn't shine), it ends its hibernation. But if it can see its shadow (and therefore the sun does shine), it crawls back into its nest, and six more weeks of winter will come...
On TV we saw groundhog Phil from Philadelphia make his debut, to show the viewers what exactly would happen that year. But alas, Phil didn't seem very comfortable with the unusual media attention, and he was rather recalcitrant...
To foreigners it does seem rather farfetched that Phil can simply suck a six-week weather forecast from its thumb, er... foot, but after some due consideration this ancient folk wisdom may effectively be supported by somewhat more sound scientific explanations.
February 2, whether by coincidence or not, happens to be the astronomical middle of winter, smack between the solstice of December and the vernal equinox. As long as 1500 years ago, the Byzanthemes celebrated Candlemas, the 40th day after Christmas. Furthermore, the six weeks from the legend represent the exact time span, remaining until the end of the astronomical winter !
Even the shadow part doesn't seem to have been chosen arbitrarily, since February is the most cloudy and somber month... Its counterpart, the month with the most hours of open sky, is September. The statistical chances of Phil having no shadow and an early spring may be rather optimistic, but hey, every excuse to have a party is more than welcome...
President's Day Groundhog Day
Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September, and it is a public holiday in the USA, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone and the Virgin Islands.
In 1882, the Knights of Labor union held a large parade in New York City, to honor the workers. Two years later, the union held another parade on the first Monday of September, and decided to repeat this annually. They called it Labor Day.
Later and together with other unions, they started agitating to make this day a paid holiday. In 1894 it was effectively voted as such by Congress. The festivities proceed exactly as in Europe, with parades and speeches by trade unionists and politicians.
The European First of May on the other hand, was already celebrated for many centuries by Latin and Germanic people. Probably these festivals originate in ancient pagan rites in honor of Flora, the Roman Godess of Spring.
The first of May probably became the Day of Labor on the occasion of the first Congress of the Second International, an association of socialist and labor parties (1889). This day became important in the Soviet Union, other communist regimes, and finally also in socialist ranks.