American Holidays & Seasons
US Culture
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Christmas in the US

The Christmas Holiday season begins in November

In the USA, the Christmas season traditionally begins just after the Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday in November. The Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving is the occasion for a spectacular parade in New York City with the arrival of Santa Claus signaling the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

Christmas is a religious and secular holiday

Christmas was originally a strictly religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25. It has become a very commercial and secular celebration throughout the US. Department stores, shopping malls and small shops elaborately decorate their establishments and entice shoppers to spend lavishly on Christmas gifts. Nevertheless, Christmas retains serious religious significance for many people. It is the occasion for an annual family reunion and it creates a pervasive atmosphere of generosity and good cheer known as the "Christmas Spirit" throughout the country.

Christmas Lights © Mike Leco
Families decorate their homes for the holiday season by draping the outsides of their houses and their shrubbery with colored lights.

The Holiday season is more than just Christmas

The Jewish holiday of Hanukah is celebrated in mid December, and the Afro-American holiday of Kwanza falls in the same period. Together with Christmas, they make a joyful December Holiday season throughout the USA.

Santa Claus is America's Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus was originally based on Saint Nicholas, a European Christian bishop renown for his generosity in giving gifts to poor neighbors during the harsh winters. In the USA, Santa Claus is usually portrayed as a jolly, fat man with flowing white beard dressed in a red suit. He drives a magic sled pulled by eight reindeer and flies around the world on the night before Christmas delivering gifts of toys and sweets to all the children.

Christmas Trees are a tradition

Many families in the US place a small evergreen tree in their home and decorate it with colored lights and bright ornaments. On Christmas morning, the children awake to find gaily-wrapped gifts under their Christmas tree. Children often hang empty stockings over their fireplace on Christmas Eve and awaken the next morning to find them filled with sweets and small toys.

Christmas Lights © Mike Leco
Suburban neighborhoods in the northern states can become indescribably beautiful after a fresh snowfall with millions of colored lights glowing on the houses and trees.

Christmas lights create wonderful holiday scenes

Families decorate their homes for the holiday season by draping the outsides of their houses and their shrubbery with colored lights. Neighborhoods take on a gay, festive holiday appearance every evening. Some extravagant homeowners festoon their home with tens of thousands of colored lights and even place life-sized, illuminated Santas, reindeers and snowmen on their lawns and roofs. Many churches and private homes display illuminated manger scenes commemorating the humble birth of Jesus. Suburban neighborhoods in the northern states can become indescribably beautiful after a fresh snowfall with millions of colored lights glowing on the houses and trees.

Many Americans send Christmas Cards

Many people exchange Christmas Cards or Holiday cards during this season. Holiday greeting cards are mailed to friends, neighbors, relatives and business associates in December. If you receive a card, it is not necessary to reciprocate, as some people send no cards. If you wish to send a Christmas card and are unsure of the religious affiliation of the recipient, always choose a holiday card without any religious theme to avoid offending.

Christmas Day is usually an intimate family celebration

Typical activities in the month of December are shopping for Christmas or Hanukah gifts and attending holiday parties. The parties usually include plenty of food, drink and holiday cheer. Christmas Eve and Christmas day are usually reserved for religious observance and family celebration. Family members from near and far usually unite on Christmas Day for an annual Holiday feast. When invited to a family Christmas celebration, a small gift for the entire family would be appropriate. If there are young children in the family, small gifts of sweets or toys are always well appreciated.

Christmas Lights © Mike Leco
Some extravagant homeowners festoon their home with tens of thousands of colored lights and even place life-sized, illuminated Santas, reindeers and snowmen on their lawns and roofs.

New Years Eve is party time

During the week after Christmas, stores fill with shoppers exchanging Christmas gifts and taking advantage of the after-Christmas clearance sales. On New Years Eve, parties abound in restaurants, bars and clubs throughout the US. They tend to be noisy affairs with drinking, dancing and wild celebration. Some cities hold great outdoor parties that end with fireworks displays at midnight. The most famous outdoor New Years Eve party is held at Times Square in New York City. The first day of the new year marks the end of the holiday season and is usually spent at home recuperating and watching football on the television. Some families host a New Year dinner party for friends and neighbors.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Scott Cramer
Photo Description: A log home in Central Oregon decorated in Christmas lights.