The United States has many election days because there are so many levels of government. Each state has its own elected officials, such as a governor—the chief administrative official—and state legislators, who make the state's laws. In addition, there are elections of mayors and other officials for all cities and smaller communities, and still other elections for county officials. (Counties are subdivisions of each state.)
The United States is a nation of many religious and ethnic groups. Many of these have feast days, holy days or special customs related to their religion or to their nation of origin. People of the Jewish faith, for example, observe all of their traditional holy days, with employers showing consideration by allowing them to take days off so they can observe their traditions. The same is true for Moslems.
Schools provide American students with much more than academic education. Students learn about the world through various school-related activities. More than 80 percent of all students participate in student activities, such as sports, student newspapers, drama clubs, debate teams, choral groups and bands.
Imagine leaving your home, family and friends to come to a strange new country. That is just what many young people (sometimes with their families, but often alone) have done for more than 350 years in coming to the New World. For many immigrants (people who arrive in a new country), the New World offered hope of a better life; for all new arrivals, the change was traumatic.
America has long been known as an ethnic "melting pot." Its current population is 252.5 million, made up of immigrants or their descendants from virtually every country in the world. It is believed that the first people to arrive—from Siberia, more than 10,000 years ago—were the Native Americans or the American Indians. Today, nearly 1.5 million American Indians and Eskimos live in the United States, many on tribal lands set aside for them in 31 states.
The nation's capital, Washington, D.C., has the 10th largest metropolitan population in the country, with a population of over 3.9 million. Laid out by the French architect Pierre L'Enfant in the late 18th century, it was the world's first city especially planned as a center of government.
Americans widely observe other holidays which stem from traditions older than those of the United States. One is Easter, the Christian feast of the Resurrection of Jesus. Easter always falls on a Sunday. For most Americans, it is a day of worship and a gathering of the family. Many follow old traditions such as the dyeing of hard-boiled eggs and the giving of gifts of candy eggs, rabbits and chicks for the children. Many households organize Easter egg hunts, in which children look for dyed eggs hidden around the house or yard or in a park. The President of the United States even has an annual Easter egg hunt on the lawn of the White House the day after Easter, known as "Easter Monday."
Not all Americans are free to celebrate holidays at all times. Whether they must work or not depends upon the importance of the holiday, the demands of seasonal work, holidays agreed to in union contracts and other factors. Many newspaper reporters, radio broadcasters, hospital workers, police, fire fighters and workers who provide other essential services must work on holidays. All working Americans, however, do get vacation time. Most take their vacations during the summer months—as is common in other nations. The amount of vacation time varies greatly, but most people get one or two weeks a year after working for the same company for a year or more. More vacation time is given after longer periods of work.
This brief description of holidays shows that for some of these special times, the customs of all or most Americans are very much the same. For others, however, the customs can vary greatly. Those who feel strongly about the labor unions, for example, see Labor Day as a day on which to demonstrate labor solidarity in a public way. For others, Labor Day means a day off to go for a ride in a car, to go for a final swim or to hold a family get-together.
The typical American student spends six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year in school. Children in the United States start preschool or nursery school at age four or under. Most children start kindergarten at five years of age.
Most American youths look forward to their future with hope and optimism. According to the survey "The Mood of American Youth," teenagers "place a high priority on education and careers. While filled with high hopes about the years before them, today's students are not laboring under any misconceptions about what they must do to realize their aspirations. They admit that hard work lies ahead and claim they are willing to make the sacrifices needed to reach their goals."
In the year 1620, a ship named the Mayflower brought 102 English men, women
and children to the rocky coast of what is now Massachusetts, one of the 50
states of the United States of America. The ship's passengers were
Puritans—members of a religious sect which was unpopular in Britain because its
members wanted to reform the Church of England. They came to America to found a
community where they could practice their religion without interference.
One other day that most Americans observe, even though it is not an official holiday, is February 14, Valentine's Day, named for an early Christian martyr whose feast day was once observed on that day. On this day, Americans give special symbolic gifts to people they love. They also send special greeting cards called Valentines to such people. Most commonly, the gifts are candy or flowers.
Halloween, the last day of October, has a special significance for children, who dress in funny or ghostly costumes and knock at neighborhood doors. After shouting "Trick or Treat!" they are given gifts of candy or money. Originally a religious holiday—the evening before All Saints or All-Hallows Day, Halloween is now celebrated by Americans more according to ancient Celtic pagan traditions. Some children collect money on this day to help children of other nations through the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The United States Census Bureau defines a family as two or more people who are related by blood, adoption or marriage, living together. Most American families include members of just two generations: parents and their children, though many extended families do include more than two generations. There are about 65.8 million families in the United States. What is the purpose of a family? Experts agree that the family structure should provide emotional, physical and educational support. The role of the family in a young person's life has changed in the past 100 years.
At 18 years of age, young people in the United States can take on most of the rights and the responsibilities of adulthood. Before this occurs, however, the American teenager (a common name for a young person between the ages of 13 and 19), goes through the period of adolescence. Psychologists (specialists who study the science of human behavior) say that most young people experience conflict during this period of their lives. They are changing rapidly, both physically and emotionally and they are searching for self-identity. As they are growing up and becoming more independent, teenagers sometimes develop different values from those held by their parents. American teenagers begin to be influenced by the values expressed by their friends, the media (newspapers, television, magazines, etc.) and teachers. During this period of their lives, young people also begin to participate in social activities such as sporting events and church group projects, as well to do more things in the company of members of the opposite sex and fewer things in the company of their families.
To some observers, teens today may seem spoiled (undisciplined and egocentric) compared to those of earlier times. The reality, however, is different. While poverty has decreased and political turmoil has lessened, young people are still under many types of stress. Peer pressure, changing family conditions, mobility of families and unemployment are just a few reasons why some young people may try to escape reality by turning to alcohol or drugs. However, most young people in the United States do not have problems with drinking, drug abuse, teen pregnancies or juvenile delinquency. Drug use (marijuana and cocaine are the most commonly used drugs) has decreased among young people in the United States within the last 10 years, though alcohol abuse has increased.