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2.8 With the help of the school librarian, give examples of traditions or customs from other countries that can be found in America today. (G, C)

Since the United States is a country of immigrants, many of the traditions and customs we have are from different countries. Some of the traditions and customs from other countries have been changed or exaggerated in America.

These are a few examples:

Halloween Postcard from early 20th Century

  • From ancient Celtic festival, Samhain
  • Celebration of their New Year
  • Marked end of Summer and the harvest season and the beginning of Winter
  • The Winter season was associated with death
  • The Celts believed that on this day, the worlds of the living and the dead came together
  • During Samhain, people typically wore costumes
  • Once the Romans conquered this area, Samhain combined with Roman festivals
  • The Romans celebrated Feralia at the end of October
  • Feralia celebrated the dead passing on
  • Jack O'Lanterns developed from the Irish tale of "Stringy Jack"
  • Stringy Jack was forced to roam the earth forever with a piece of coal in a turnip as punishment for his tricks on the devil
In America
  • Immigrants from Europe brought Halloween customs to America
  • Irish immigrants started using pumpkins to represent Stringy Jack, starting Jack O'Lanterns
  • Halloween was not very popular in New England at first because of strict religious rules
  • Halloween included celebrations of the harvest, telling stories of the dead, and telling fortunes
  • Halloween became more popular with the wave of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine
  • Around this time, Americans started using costumes and trick or treating
  • Over time, the celebration became not about the harvest, but parties, costumes, and games
For more information, click here for an article on Halloween from History.com

Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo performers at the White House in 2007

  • Means fifth of May in Spanish
  • Celebrates a 1862 Mexican victory at the Battle of the Puebla in the Franco-Mexican War
  • The battle was between 6,000 French troops and 2,000 Mexican recruits
  • This victory encouraged the Mexican resistance to grow
  • Not a major celebration in Mexico
  • It is mainly celebrated in the state of Puebla, where the battle was
  • Other states celebrate it as well, but it is by no means a nation-wide celebration
  • Parades and recreations of the battle are common
  • Banks, offices, and stores all remain open
In America
  • Many people confuse it with Mexican Independence Day (Sept 16)
  • Became popular in the 1960s when Mexican activists started to bring attention to it
  • Because of this, most people see it as a celebration of all Mexican culture
  • Mainly celebrated in areas with a large Mexican-American population
  • Celebrated with parties, mariachi bands, Mexican food, and parades
  • There are large festivals in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston
For more information, click here for an article on Cinco de Mayo from History.com

St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick's Day Parade in Boston

  • March 17th was celebrated in Ireland, but as a religious feast day
  • Banks, stores, and businesses were closed
  • Even pubs were closed
  • To honor the saint, the religious would climb the rocky mountain named for St. Patrick
  • Most Irish celebrate by attending church and eating corned beef and cabbage
In America
  • The first St. Patrick's Day was celebrated in 1762 in NYC
  • Irish soldiers in the British Army had a parade to show off their heritage
  • As the number of Irish grew in America, so did the holiday
  • Parades, parties, and wearing green became commonplace for March 17th
  • It was more celebrated in America than Ireland
  • It is only recently that Ireland started having huge St. Patrick's Day celebrations
For more information, click here for an article on the growth of St. Patrick's Day.


Christmas traditions are taken from many other countries:
  • The gift-giving is thought to be descended from the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia
  • The traditional Christmas plant, the poinsettia, was brought to the US from Mexico in 1828
  • Bringing green trees into the home symbolized the beauty of life for the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Germans
  • It was the Germans who brought the tradition to America
  • Starting in the 16th century, Germans brought decorated trees into their houses to celebrate the holiday
  • It was not widely accepted in America until the mid 1800s
  • The "Yule" is from the ancient Norse word for "wheel"
  • The Norse believed the sun god was a wheel of fire that rolled towards and away from Earth
    A typical Christmas tree
  • They would celebrate his return on the Winter Solstice, hence the yuletide
  • The tradition of sending Christmas Cards is an English tradition
  • Mistletoe is a Celtic tradition, thought to bring good luck
  • Caroling is an English tradition
  • Poor performers used to travel and sing to rich houses in hopes of being invited in for warmth and food
  • The tradition of stockings is from a Scandinavian legend of St. Nicholas
  • 3 sisters didn't have enough money for dowry, so St. Nicholas left them gold coins so they wouldn't be sold
  • One of the coins landed in a pair of stockings that was left to dry by hanging on the fireplace
For more information on Christmas traditions from around the world, click here.