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Although it began as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation for fallen soldiers after the Civil War, Memorial Day eventually evolved into an occasion for more general expressions of memory. By the early 20th century, many people celebrated Memorial Day by visiting the graves of deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not. The long weekend also became a time devoted to shopping, family get-togethers, fireworks, trips to the beach, and the Indianapolis 500 auto race, held since 1911 on the Sunday preceding Memorial Day.

The central feast in the Christian liturgical year, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus who, according to the Canonical gospels, rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Oh, and there's also the Easter Bunny, which by the way is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.


A time to reflect on all of our blessings, the Thanksgiving tradition is usually traced back to a harvest celebration between the pilgrims and Native Americans that took place in 1621 at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. There is also evidence for an earlier harvest celebration on the continent by Spanish explorers in Florida during 1565, as well as thanksgiving feasts in the Virginia Colony (1619) prompted by the colonists' desire to give thanks to God on the anniversary of the settlement. The Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. In later years, the tradition was continued by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set a fixed date for Thanksgiving, in an effort to promote unity in a divided nation. Today, families gather on the fourth Thursday of November to share turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, football, and, of course, the annual Thanksgiving Day Macy's Parade.


Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, is an American holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. Independence Day celebrations typically take place outdoors and are characterized by fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, and baseball games.


Unlike the other holidays on this list, April Fool's Day is not an legal holiday, but it's widely recognized and celebrated as a day to torment your co-workers and loved ones with outrageous practical jokes and unbelievable hoaxes. There have been many famous April Fool's jokes throughout the years. In 2000, Google announced a new "MentalPlex" search technology that supposedly read the user's mind to determine what the user wanted to search for, thus eliminating the step of actually typing in the search query. In 1957, the BBC television programme _Panorama_ ran a famous hoax showing people harvesting spaghetti from trees. They claimed that the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees.


Celebrated on February 14 each year, Valentine's Day is a day for lovers to express their affection for each other by exchanging cards, candy, and flowers, all in the name of St. Valentine. The history of St. Valentine is shrouded in mystery (the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine), but according to some sources, the original St. Valentine was a priest who secretly married soldiers to there sweethearts after Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for anyone serving in the military. If the stories are true, Valentine's defiance of the emperor's edict was discovered, and he was put to death. According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" himself, while in prison, to a young girl who had stolen his heart (possibly the jailor's daughter!)


An international religious holiday celebrated on March 17, St. Patrick's Day commemorates the introduction of Christianity to Ireland. According to legend, St. Patrick was brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of sixteen. He eventually escaped, but returned in 432 to convert the Irish from their native polytheism. Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods involved using the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. After nearly thirty years of evangelism, he died on 17 March 461, and was probably buried at Downpatrick. Most importantly, however, St. Patrick's Day is an excuse to drink large quantities of alcohol and pinch your friends if they neglect to wear green.


Observed on December 31, the final day of the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Eve is traditionally celebrated with parties and social gatherings spanning the transition of the year at midnight. In addition to looking forward to the coming year, however, New Year's Eve is also a time to reflect on the past and to propose positive changes (New Year's resolutions) that we wish to make in order to improve our lives.


Celebrated on October 31, Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve, is usually considered to have evolved from the Celtic festival of Samhain which marked the end of the "lighter half" of the year and the beginning of the "darker half". For children, Halloween is a once-a-year opportunity to dress up in fun costumes and get free candy from all the neighbors. Of course, adults love Halloween too. Theme parties are popular, and it's a great excuse to get your girlfriend into that Princess Leia costume you've been fantasizing about!


Generally celebrated on December 25, Christmas earns the top spot on our list of best holidays. You get presents, drink eggnog, and celebrate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. Christmas is a time for goodwill towards all of God's creatures. In 1914, during World War I, an unofficial Christmas truce was struck between German and British soldiers along the Western Front. Soldiers serenaded opposing troops with carols from the trenches, and a few brave individuals actually crossed to the other side bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides ventured into "No man's land" where they mingled, exchanged food and souvenirs, and even engaged in friendly games of football with one another.

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