Holidays in 2014

Americans are diverse people who observe many different holidays. In a calendar year, federal and state governments officially recognize ten holidays. Although there are many ways Americans choose to observe these holidays, there are some common themes throughout the country. Official holidays are usually observed with closure of government offices, businesses and financial markets. In 2014, the official holidays will occur on the following dates:

New Year’s Day, January 1
Martin Luther King Day, January 20
Presidents’ Day, February 17
Memorial Day, May 26
Independence Day, July 4
Labor Day, September 1
Columbus Day, October 13
Veterans Day, November 11
Thanksgiving Day, November 27
Christmas Day, December 25

Three of the federal holidays honor specific individuals. Martin Luther King Day commemorates the birthday of American Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King. Presidents’ Day was established to honor the birthday of George Washington, the first President of the United States. This holiday was later expanded to include Abraham Lincoln, who was President during the American Civil War and whose birthday also falls in February. Columbus Day remembers the arrival of explorer Christopher Columbus in the Americas. Typically, these holidays are observed with special ceremonies, parades or commemorative speeches, honoring the individuals for which they are named.

Memorial Day and Veterans Day have national historic significance to Americans. While both Memorial Day and Veterans Day honor Americans that have served in military conflicts, Memorial Day is noteworthy in that it honors those who died in the conflicts. Both holidays are an occasion for displaying the American flag in front of homes, businesses and government offices. Memorial Day is observed by placing wreaths or flags on the graves of fallen soldiers.

Independence Day is a uniquely American holiday that commemorates the American colonies’ declaration of independence from Britain. This day is marked with many displays of the American flag and its colors of red, white and blue. Many Americans enjoy dressing and decorating in the colors of the flag. Independence Day, which is always on July 4, is also celebrated with parades and fireworks. All across the country, people host grand picnics and backyard celebrations with friends and family.

holidays in 2014Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day are major holidays that have Christian origins, but they are observed in both a religious and secular manner. Thanksgiving Day was established as a time to give thanks for the blessing of the harvest. People decorate their homes in the colors of autumn and gather with family for a delicious feast. Thanksgiving also signals the start of the Christmas shopping season, a key retail event on the calendar. Christmas Day is significant for Christians as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Scenes of Mary, Joseph and the Christ child in a manger are displayed and acted out in Christmas plays. Other Christian Christmas themes include angels, kings and the star of Bethlehem. A more secular expression of this holiday is found in themes of winter and St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus. Bright Christmas decorations adorn many homes, shops and workplaces. Exchanging gifts on Christmas day is the way most Americans celebrate, but there are many other observances of this holiday, including: church services, charity work, special feasts and musical concerts.

Labor Day honors American workers, and is viewed as the symbolic end of summer and start of a new school year for students. The day falls on the first Monday of September, and it may be celebrated with picnics, parades, or just enjoying a day off work. There are no special themes or typical celebrations for Labor Day, as it is usually just taken as a day of rest.

New Year’s Day, which is celebrated worldwide, is often marked by counting down to midnight and welcoming the New Year with singing, dancing, and fireworks. A celebratory toast to health and prosperity is a customary way to mark the start of a new year. Many people also enjoy a day off from work and gathering with family for a special dinner.

Two unique holidays worth mentioning are Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love, is February 14. This day is marked with exchanging gifts and expressing romance. Flowers, chocolates and candle-lit dinners are familiar Valentine’s celebrations. Quite the opposite is Halloween, which is focused on spooky themes like ghosts, vampires and other frights. The main activity on this holiday is attending costume parties or “trick or treating.” Children, dressed in creative costumes, go from house to house collecting candy treats.

Additionally, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are important celebrations. Mother’s Day is the second Sunday of May and Father’s Day is the third Sunday of June every year. Set aside to honor parents, these days are typically celebrated with gifts and special dinners. Popular gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day include greeting cards and flowers.

Because the United States is such a diverse nation, Americans also celebrate holidays linked to their ethnic heritage. Chinese New Year is observed in many American cities, and Americans of Irish heritage enjoy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in mid-March. Additionally, several religions have played a role in introducing holidays to the calendar. Christians will celebrate Easter Sunday on April 20, 2014. Those in the Jewish community will observe Passover April 15 through April 22. Also in 2014, people of Muslim faith will begin their observance of Ramadan on June 29.

In every month of the calendar, there are holidays to celebrate. Whether solemn, patriotic, religious, or frivolous, American holidays have a wide range of themes. These celebrations unite Americans and give honor to the faiths, events and people they value.

Ramadan in 2014

The end of summer brings on a flurry of activity after a lull in the wake of summer heat and time off from school. It’s also the time when Muslims celebrate Ramadan. In 2014, from June 28th to July 27th, Muslims will fast from sun up to sun down. Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calender and also the holiest time of year for Muslims. It’s thought that during this month the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by God.

Why Muslims Fast During Ramadan

As this is the holiest time of year, all practicing Muslims over the age of 12 are not allowed to drink or eat during daylight hours. Muslims acknowledge that this month is the time when the gates of hell close, and they are unable to be tempted throughout this month of self-control, discipline and goodwill. The fast doesn’t just pertain to food and drink however. The ritual fast is actually known as Sawm. Muslims are also restricted from pleasures of the senses such as smoking, listening to music and sex. This is meant to lessen the dependence on material goods and purify the soul.

How Ramadan Began

It’s believed that the first Ramadan happened during a particular hot summer, which is way the root of the Arabic name Ramadan means “the scorcher.” This practice started more than 1400 years ago when the Quran was revealed to Muhammad by God. The beginning date of Ramadan is determined by the day after the new moon during the Ramadan lunar month. The Night of Power is most holiest night of the year. This date occurs on an odd-numbered date during the last 10 days of Ramadan. In 2014 it’s July 23rd. Eid al-Fitr or “festivity of breaking the fast” is the last day of Ramadan and so begins the next lunar month.

Daily Life During Ramadan

Every day starts with suhoor. This is a meal before fasting. Muslims begin their first prayer before the sunrise. This is called Fajr. At sundown, families will gather for the end of fast meal known as iftar. A fruit called a date is very important during iftar as this was the food that Muhammad ate first after his fast. After dates are served, Muslims start Maghrib prayer, then the main meal is served. Iftar is a social gathering usually brought together with traditional dishes. Mostly water and juice are consumed during these milks with less focus on eating soda or other caffeinated drinks. The rules in the Middle East are much stricter for what is consumed during iftar. Traditional meals consist of water, juices, dates, salads, a few appetizers, one entree and a few desserts.

Types of Food Served at Iftar

Most of the main entrees contain lamb, grilled getables, roast chicken, chickpea rice pilaf and kababs. Desserts like baklava, luqaimat and kunafeh are served as well. Usually food is served banquet style following the Maghrib prayer.

The Month of Charity

Islam teaches Muslims to be very charitable, but Ramadan is an important month of giving as well as fasting. Zakat is a percentage of a person’s savings that must be given to the poor. Sadaqah is the name given to voluntary charity that goes beyond zakat. Good deeds are considered to be more rewarding during Ramadan. Other rewards are given to those who help the poor break their fast, which is why so many public areas in the Middle East are devoted to large banquets for iftar during Ramadan.

Scripture Study During Ramadan

Many Muslims read the entire Quran or at least read the Quran daily as part of their Ramadan ritual. Many communities also get together to do different segments of the Quran and conclude reading on Eid ul-Fitr or the end of Ramadan.

How Non-Muslims Can Participate

Ramadan isn’t limited to who can participate. Non-Muslims are welcome to participate in fasting and prayer with Muslim friends and family. They are also welcome to iftar and other activities for Ramadan. There are some polite phrases that people can also use for those who are fasting during Ramadan. These include Ramadan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem, which mean “Have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.”

Health Restrictions for Participants

The American Diabetes Association suggested that Ramadan isn’t a good idea for people with diabetes. Many Muslims with diabetes experience acute complications due to fasting. However, the study wasn’t conclusive and didn’t show enough evidence to prove that careful diabetic sufferers would still go through any complications or health problems as a result from fasting.

Do Any Muslims Abstain from Ramadan?

While many Muslims believe that fasting during Ramadan is necessary, there are other groups that do not partake in this activity. For example, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers and people with illness often do not fast during Ramadan. Those under the age of 12 do not have to fast. In other groups, children who have yet reached puberty do not have to fast.

The Meaning of Ramadan

In general Ramadan is a holy month meant to purify one’s heart and soul. To each Muslim Ramadan could mean something different. Some believe it is a time focus solely on prayer and reading the Quran while others believe Ramadan as a month of giving away possessions and showing great goodwill to fellow human beings. By removing material wants, people are able to fully focus their energy, faith and service to God. Muslims also focus on purifying their mind and body from actions and thoughts that go against Islam. For example, they may purge actions like cursing or thoughts of anger. It is important for all Muslims to remain pure in accordance with Islam during Ramadan.

In many ways Ramadan is a period of change. It marks the time of summer’s end and new beginnings. Muslims who participate in Ramadan feel a sense of renewal and energy from purifying their bodies and minds. It’s also a celebration of the Quran and dedication to prayer. Each year this month reminds people of their faith and fortifies their love of God.