U.S. Culture — страница 11

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were examples of physical grace and agility. In 1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments Act outlawed discrimination based on gender in education, including school sports. Schools then spent additional funding on women's athletics, which provided an enormous boost to women’s sports of all kinds, especially basketball, which became very popular. Women's college basketball, part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is a popular focus of interest. By the end of the 20th century, this enthusiasm led to the creation of a major professional women’s basketball league. Women have become a large part of athletics, making their mark in a wide range of sports. Sports have become one of the most visible expressions of the vast extension of democracy in 20th-century

America. They have become more inclusive, with many Americans both personally participating and enjoying sports as spectators. Once readily available only to the well-to-do, sports and recreation attract many people, aided by the mass media, the schools and colleges, the federal and state highway and park systems, and increased leisure time. Celebrations and Holidays Americans celebrate an enormous variety of festivals and holidays because they come from around the globe and practice many religions. They also celebrate holidays specific to the United States that commemorate historical events or encourage a common national memory. Holidays in America are often family or community events. Many Americans travel long distances for family gatherings or take vacations during holidays.

In fact, by the end of the 20th century, many national holidays in the United States had become three-day weekends, which many people used as mini vacations. Except for the Fourth of July and Veterans Day, most commemorative federal holidays, including Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Presidents’ Day, are celebrated on Mondays so that Americans can enjoy a long weekend. Because many Americans tend to create vacations out of these holiday weekends rather than celebrate a particular event, some people believe the original significance of many of these occasions has been eroded. Because the United States is a secular society founded on the separation of church and state, many of the most meaningful religiously based festivals and rituals, such as Easter, Rosh Hashanah,

and Ramadan, are not enshrined as national events, with one major exception. Christmas, and the holiday season surrounding it, is an enormous commercial enterprise, a fixture of the American social calendar, and deeply embedded in the popular imagination. Not until the 19th century did Christmas in the United States begin to take on aspects of the modern holiday celebration, such as exchanging gifts, cooking and eating traditional foods, and putting up often-elaborate Christmas decorations. The holiday has grown in popularity and significance ever since. Santa Claus; brightly decorated Christmas trees; and plenty of wreathes, holly, and ribbons help define the season for most children. Indeed, because some religious faiths do not celebrate Christmas, the Christmas season has

expanded in recent years to become the “holiday season,” embracing Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, and Kwanzaa, a celebration of African heritage. Thus, the Christmas season has become the closest thing to a true national festival in the United States. The expansion of Christmas has even begun to encroach on the most indigenous of American festivals, Thanksgiving. Celebrated on the last Thursday in November, Thanksgiving has largely shed its original religious meaning (as a feast of giving thanks to God) to become a celebration of the bounty of food and the warmth of family life in America. American children usually commemorate the holiday’s origins at school, where they re-create the original event: Pilgrims sharing a harvest feast with Native Americans. Both the

historical and the religious origins of the event have largely given way to a secular celebration centered on the traditional Thanksgiving meal: turkey—an indigenous American bird—accompanied by foods common in early New England settlements, such as pumpkins, squashes, and cranberries. Since many Americans enjoy a four-day holiday at Thanksgiving, the occasion encourages family reunions and travel. Some Americans also contribute time and food to the needy and the homeless during the Thanksgiving holiday. Another holiday that has lost its older, religious meaning in the United States is Halloween, the eve of All Saints’ Day. Halloween has become a celebration of witches, ghosts, goblins, and candy that is especially attractive to children. On this day and night, October 31,