We've all heard about those holidays created mainly for the purpose of selling greeting cards -- so-called Hallmark holidays -- but there are some that have real historical significance -- including Labor Day.
The most exciting thing about Labor Day is that many of us get long weekends for it. Otherwise, it's a very earnest holiday, celebrating the working Joe. First suggested by either a carpenter or a machinist in around 1885, Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, celebrated mostly with earnest parades.
That said, it has been pointed out that Labor Day may be the only holiday devoted just to a positive force -- not to war, power or glory, nor to any single person, religion or nation.
Though Mother's Day in the United States was created in the mid-1800s by Philadephia's Ann Reeves Jarvis in much the same way Dodd created Father's Day, celebrations of motherhood go back millennia to the Greeks and Romans.
By the 1700s, it had gradually morphed with the advent of Christianity into "Mothering Sunday," really a call for people to return to their mother churches on one given Sunday. In the early 1900s, Jarvis' daughter, Anna Jarvis, started a campaign to formally recognize Mother's Day as a holiday. President Woodrow Wilson signed the annual holiday -- to be held on the second Sunday in May -- into law in 1914.
Father's Day cookiesThinkstock
While not quite as old as Mother's Day, Father's Day has a hundred-plus-year history. The first Father's Day was a local affair, celebrated in Spokane, Wash., in 1910.
Sonora Dodd, a Spokane native, thought to create a day that celebrated fathers after thinking, during a Mother's Day celebration, of her single dad and all he had done for her. She encouraged local churches to celebrate fathers in June, her father's birth month, and Father's Day was born. It wasn't made an official holiday until 1924, under President Calvin Coolidge.
For such a simple holiday, Halloween has a twisted, complicated history. Its roots lie in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-win), a harvest celebration that takes place in late October, when the crops are brought in for winter.
The Celtic people believed that on Oct. 31, the worlds of the living and the dead were closest, and that the dead could come back to wreak havoc on the living. So the bonfires were lit and the masks and costumes came out to ward off, appease or hide from any spirits that broke through.
Probably the most ancient of the holidays we celebrate, Valentine's Day has a murky, mysterious past. Its roots lie with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia on Feb. 15, which in itself was a torrid affair, with drunkenness, animal sacrifice and spanking of young women (really).
Since there were three St. Valentines, all of whom were killed at around the same time, about 270 A.D., it's not clear which one lent his name to the holiday. A thousand years passed before Chaucer linked St. Valentine to love and cemented the bond, some scholars believe. It stuck. By the 1700s, the holiday had shifted to Feb. 14 and exchanging handmade cards was the custom.
Though St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was feted in the motherland, it wasn't until the Irish started emigrating to the United States that it became the big deal it is today.
Holiday celebrations started small in the 1700s, with local parades in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago's Irish communities. Over time, though, the Irish population grew and the parades multiplied, joined by the tradition of wearing green for Ireland. Drinking Guinness, another Irish tradition, of course stayed.
Also called Decoration Day, Memorial Day seems to have sprung up simultaneously in multiple locations just after the Civil War ended in 1868.
The Grand Army of the Republic -- a Union veterans' association -- declared that on May 30, graves of the fallen should be decorated with spring flowers. But localities were already doing that. In addition to Memorial Day, many states in the South have their own holidays for honoring fallen Confederate soldiers.
The date most people think is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Dec. 25, isn't just that: it's also an embracing of the season of light that has been celebrated since well before Christianity took hold.
The ancient Romans feted Saturnalia, a raucous festival of carousing and gift-giving that ran in the weeks leading up to Dec. 25, the birthday of Mithras and the Roman sun god, The Unconquered Sun.
Experts theorize that the early Christians, in an effort to carve out their own religious rituals in the pagan Roman Empire, likely chose Dec. 25 as their special day in order to show that they had something special to offer, too: the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus was likely born in March or April, though the exact date isn't clear.