A Guide to Holiday Traditions in the U.S.

A Guide to Holiday Traditions in the U.S.

In the U.S., we refer to the months of November and December as “the holiday season” because of the major holidays celebrated from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.  The United States is a nation of many cultures that has adopted holiday customs from across the world, and we’ve developed a few of our own that stand out. Here’s a handy guide to those traditions for international students in the U.S.

Black Friday

You may have seen it on TV – the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., crowds gather at stores across the country in the early hours of the morning in search of the best discounts on presents for the holidays. The event got its name from a phrase used in business – “in the black” – which means that a company has made a profit.

Drinking Eggnog

Eggnog is a sweet seasonal drink that has been popular around the holidays in the U.S. since its colonial days. The drink consists of milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and can be made with or without egg whites and rum/whiskey. While the drink originated in England, it’s a treat reserved just for the holidays in the States.

Decorating Houses with Lights

It’s common to see houses decorated with everything from white lights to blow-up decorations across the country. Going beyond public parks and city squares, American families and neighbors (like this city block in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) often see their impressive house decorations as a point of pride and cause for bragging rights.

Eating Pumpkin Desserts

You may have heard the phrase, “as American as apple pie.” It may be even more appropriate to say so for pumpkin pie. Every autumn in the U.S., farmers harvest pumpkins that bakeries and families turn into a variety of holiday treats between Halloween and Christmas. The most famous of these is pumpkin pie, a sweet and hearty dessert typically enjoyed with family after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Try a slice this year!

Watching the Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve in New York

For over 100 years every New Year’s Eve, thousands of tourists flock to Times Square in New York City to witness “the Ball drop.” A 12-foot ball of Waterford crystals that weighs over 5,000 kg descends from the top of One Times Square as people in the U.S. count down to the new year. If you can’t make it to New York to see it yourself, you can watch it on TV.

The Mummers Parade

The Mummers Parade is thought to be the oldest folk festival in the U.S. The parade is a unique celebration on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and consists of a number of string bands who play music and wear homemade elaborate costumes to ring in the new year.

Time Off in December and January

Most U.S. schools and many businesses are closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day so families can spend time together. For college students in the U.S., the holidays mean it’s time for winter break, which usually lasts from mid-December to mid-January. Here’s how you can spend your month off.

Mixing Cultural Traditions

The U.S. is home to people from all over the world, and holiday celebrations are no different. Read how international food truck owners on Temple University’s campus share their cultural traditions with students this time of year.

Whether you are an international student spending the holiday season in the U.S. for the first time or the fifth time, these traditions are sure to get you into the spirit. Happy Holidays!





Show More

Rachel Jenkins is the Marketing Coordinator for International Affairs at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Download Study in the USA® Magazines

Related Schools