Origin stories behind 30 holidays
More than just a day to rest or have fun, holidays often call on people to celebrate, reflect, or engage with their families and communities. Some holidays are geared toward commemorating special events and people, while others are born from religions. Various other holidays were created to encourage awareness and to help fix some of society’s biggest problems. Many of the most important and catalytic moments of history or people are marked as holidays, including Juneteenth, Canada Day, and the observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Holidays also are integral aspects of many of the world’s religions. These days of observance offer participants a chance to reflect on their relationships with their belief systems or to celebrate with family and friends. Sometimes such holidays are used to consider the sacrifices people have made for their religions. Below, Stacker looks at the origins of holidays such as Holi, Purim, and Christmas from the Hindu, Jewish, Christian faiths.
Many of the more recent holidays center around raising awareness about issues and events around the world, such as Earth Day and Employee Appreciation Day.
Stacker examined the origin stories behind 30 holidays across the globe. Read on to learn more about how some of your favorite holidays—and some holidays you may never have heard of—came to be.
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National Ice Cream Day
Celebrated on the third Sunday of July, National Ice Cream Day originated in 1984 as Ice Cream Month. The 31-day nod to the popular treat came by way of a joint resolution in Congress. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law by proclamation.
Named "Fête nationale" by the French and referred to as Bastille Day by English-speakers, July 14 commemorates the day in 1789 when the Bastille Saint-Antoine—a fortress—was stormed, which spurred the French Revolution. Today the French celebrate the national holiday with public events like dances, parades, concerts, and fireworks from the Eiffel Tower.
International Women’s Day
International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8 in various countries and in many different ways around the world. In Germany, for instance, it is a public holiday, while in Romania it is an unofficial celebration to honor women. The idea for the day originated with Clara Zetkin in 1910 to commemorate working women who had marched on the same date in 1908, demanding economic and social justice.
Eid al-Fitr is a Muslim religious holiday celebrated globally as the last day of Ramadan. Its date depends on the Islam lunar calendar, so it changes each year. Eid al-Fitr is often called “Festival of Breaking the Fast.” The holiday originated with the Islamic prophet Muhammad who had the Koran revealed to him during Ramadan.
Passover is a Jewish religious holiday that occurs on the 15th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. It ranges from a seven-day celebration for the Reform Jewish denomination and eight days for the Hasidic and Conservative Jewish denominations. The holiday originated from the Torah when ancient Israelites marked their doors with the sacrifice of a lamb for God to pass over their homes while slaying the first-born children of Egyptians.
Purim is a Jewish religious holiday celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. It usually occurs in late winter or early spring. The origin of Purim stretches back to the 400 B.C. when Jews in the Persian empire defeated their anti-Semitic enemies. Purim marks the day of relaxation after the battle.
Imbolc is a Celtic pagan religious holiday celebrated from Feb. 1–2 each year. Imbolc originated as a festival in honor of the pagan goddess Brigid that marked the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Imbolc is also known as St. Brigid’s Day.
Holi is an Indian festival of colors holiday that lasts five days; it is celebrated during the full moon day in Phalguna on the Hindu calendar. The celebration derives from an Indian legend in which a woman named Holika lost her life because of a sinister plot. The holiday, named after Holika, is a celebration of the victory of good versus evil.
Canada Day originated as Dominion Day, which marked the July 1, 1867, anniversary of when the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick merged into the Dominion of Canada, known today as Canada. Canada Day became the official title of the national holiday in 1982.
Kwanzaa lasts from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. The African American cultural holiday was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a way to find a festive to help unite the African American community, particularly after the Watts Riots in Los Angeles. The name is Swahili for "first fruits of the harvest," and is based on Nguzo Sabu, seven principles to build and reinforce community in the African diaspora.