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American Holidays

International Scholars > Experience American Culture > Holidays

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American Holidays

You may have already enjoyed an unexpected day off as a result of a public holiday here at MIT, but there are a number of special days throughout the year in the United States that you should be aware of, and plan for, while you are living here. Some of these days, federal holidays like New Years Day and Labor Day, will likely result in your class, lab, or department being closed as well as a number of public offices and businesses. We have many days that recognize important national events or citizens.  Several are observed as federal holidays like Martin Luther King Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Independence Day. 

But there are other days that may not rise to the level of importance of meriting a day off, but are still nice to know about and anticipate. For example, Groundhog Day, which Americans in the colder climates await each winter with anticipation in the hopes of learning how soon the spring thaw will arrive. There is also Valentineís Day, when amorous couples, and/or hopefuls, express their affection for the one they love. Environmentally conscious Americans celebrate days like Earth Day and Arbor Day when we are reminded of the importance of taking care of our planet and its ecosystems.

Americans also set aside days to recognize mother and father (but we do not have a special day to celebrate our children like some other countries around the world). We have a day to celebrate being Irish (regardless of whether you are Irish or not), known as St. Patrickís Day, when people eat corned beef and cabbage and maybe even drink green beer. We even have a day to recognize the dead in a lighthearted way, Halloween, and another day to play tricks on friends, April Foolís Day.

We hope that you will take the time to attend campus celebrations of holidays, or do so with your new American neighbors. While you are here, you will probably still be thinking about special days and holidays in your home country when they occur, and what is going on with your family and friends at those times. It is always strange to be away from home on a holiday. Be sure to tell your colleagues and friends here about what is happening at home. If your country is celebrating a special day or national holiday, share that with people you know here. And if that special day is associated with food, even better, bring some samples into your office, lab, or department and explain the significance of the day to your colleagues. Everyone loves free food! And who knows, you make create a whole new, fun holiday in your workspace.

There are other days that are not necessarily commemorated with a day off but are still acknowledged in some way. For example, Bunker Hill Day, Patriotís Day (also known as Marathon Monday), and Flag Day. Each of these days is meant to remind American citizens of important aspects of our national or local history and encourage them to reflect on them in some way.

Speaking of our history, the United States was partly founded on a European desire for religious freedom. This was largely influenced by a yearning to freely participate in different Christianity practices. The result of this history is evident in many aspects of our society today, but we are now a nation of many more faiths than the colonial period and we try to be aware and sensitive to all organized religions. Regardless of your own religious beliefs and possible affiliations, it is be helpful to be aware of the religious holidays observed by others in this country.

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Last Updated: July 2019

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