FORMER Craven resident Graham Jagger has been living in the United States for three years; here  in his letter from America, he discusses national holidays and how Thanksgiving is bigger than Christmas. 

WE all love holidays don’t we and they are something we look forward to and plan our lives around.

It’s a break from what we do most days and weeks and seem like a reward for all our efforts. Holidays create memories and I’m sure we all have them both good and bad.

Quite often these days they involve international travel to places far and wide around the world, but we also enjoy a few days away in the country in which we live from time to time exploring locations that we’ve heard about but never been to despite being not that far away. And then we have those Bank Holidays dotted throughout the year that we try to tie into longer periods of holiday to make the most of that time.

Here in the US the holiday situation is not dissimilar to the UK but also has its interesting additions for days that have significance within American history.

Most people will instantly recognise 4th July as being one of those typical American celebration days. Independence Day is the day when back in 1776 the 13 colonies, including Georgia, would no longer be subject to the monarch of Great Britain, King George III.

Independence and freedom are very big issues for Americans, and you hear about these just about every day here. I get asked, “how do the Brits celebrate the 4th July/Independence Day”? I tell them that we Brits are just so glad we got rid of the US and all the problems it has. That usually stuns them into silence which is quite a difficult thing to do to an American and then they realise that I was having a joke with them.

There is “Thanksgiving” which happens on the 4th Thursday in November and dates back to 1621 when the Plymouth Colonists and native American Wampanoag people shared a harvest feast together. It’s a celebration of the end of the harvest season and the food that was produced during the year. It’s also celebrated in Canada, Brazil, Liberia, and the Philippines amongst others.

It is probably THE biggest holiday day of the year, even bigger than Christmas. To me, it’s more like a practice for Christmas as it’s a turkey and stuffing dinner experience but without a decorated tree in the corner of the room. People travel to be with family on this day even more so than at Christmas and the day before is the busiest day of the year at the airports when here in Atlanta nearly 3 million people will go through on their journeys across the country.

Most college students will travel home for this long weekend which makes it busy in the air and on the roads throughout the country. This makes the night before as big a night out as New Years Eve. I spent the day with my daughter and grandsons and my daughter sees it as being more enjoyable than Christmas.

The day after Thanksgiving is “Black Friday” which whilst is not a holiday, can often get wrapped up into a long Thanksgiving weekend. The shopping frenzy that this generates is enormous here and in truth has been going on for several days in advance. But there are bargains to be had, for sure and many use this and “Cyber Monday” for their Christmas shopping. I remember myself when it crept into the UK many years ago now but it’s not to the same scale there as it is here in the US. Then there are other statutory days holiday sprinkled throughout the year and another notable one is “Juneteenth” which is a celebration of June 19th, 1865, which was the end of slavery in Texas after the end of the Civil War.

This only became a federal holiday across the country when the current President Joe Biden made it one in 2021. Obviously for the African Americans here it is a very significant day and one which they have become fiercely proud and supportive of.

On a similar line, January 16th is Martin Luther King Jr Day, a man who fought for the rights and dignity of all people and this day is a way of honouring his memory and ideals and a day for reaffirming commitment to creating a better future for all. MLK spent most of his life here in Atlanta and there’s great visitor centre in downtown which is a good place to learn all about him and what he did.

On the last Monday in May is “Memorial Day”, a day for honouring and mourning the US military personnel who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. It was originally known as “Decoration Day” as military graves were “decorated” with American flags. This is one of the two days connected with the military, the other being “Veterans Day which like the comparable day in the UK, Remembrance Day, is observed on or around November 11th each year.

September has “Labor Day” on the first Monday in the month and is the country’s most explicit way of recognising the contributions of workers and the history of labour in the US. Notice the different spellings of “labor” in the US and “labour” in the UK.

Then in October comes “Columbus Day” which commemorates the explorer Christopher Columbus’ landing in the New World on October 12th 1492. While this day is recognised as a federal holiday, not all States observe it these days. Eight States don’t recognise it, but Georgia does.

And finally, we come to Christmas and New Year which are just the same as in the UK but there’s no Boxing Day here. When I try to explain that day to people here, I just get a blank stare in return. So, there are 11 federal holidays across the calendar in the US which are very much appreciated and taken advantage of by all here as for many workers, they don’t enjoy the same number of work-related holiday days as most UK workers do.

So to all back there in the UK, make the most of your holidays and take care.