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Food Culture: Special Occasion Foods

Memorial Day and Independence Day

Summer holidays in the United States are synonymous with barbeque cook-outs. In particular, Memorial Day and Independence Day are national holidays celebrated with family and friends over food and drink. Platters of barbecued chicken, steak, and ribs are slathered in sweet-spicy sauces and served alongside potato salad, grilled corn, and other vegetables. Well into the night, revelers cool down with ice-cold soda, beer, and popsicles—and on Independence Day, enjoy a fireworks display after nightfall.


Halloween is a night of sweets. Children in the United States dress in costumes and go trick-or-treating from door to door around their neighborhoods or in public places, such as schools and malls. At each doorway, they ask “Trick or treat?” and receive commercial chocolate and candy treats. The practice of hand-packaging and producing treats for trick-or-treaters was once common, but fell out of practice because of fears of tampering or poison—largely unfounded claims that were exaggerated in media accounts and are sometimes considered urban legends. Older children and adults also throw Halloween parties that include many ordinary foods plated to look grotesque, such as punch with plastic eyeballs floating in the bowl or desserts molded in the shape of brains or rats. Candied and caramel apples are popular, and candy corn is a common treat. Pumpkins carved with faces or other designs, called jack-o-lanterns, are rarely eaten, but some families enjoy roasting the pumpkin seeds after carving the pumpkin.


Thanksgiving is a feasting holiday in the United States. Said to be a reenactment of a feast between Native Americans and starving European settlers, Thanksgiving is associated with generosity, the bounty of fall harvests, and the beginning of the holiday season that extends into January. Roast turkey is typically the centerpiece of the feast, although ham is also commonly served. Many side dishes are made, and meals are sometimes organized as potlucks, with many members bringing their own specialty dishes. Mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, green beans, stuffing, rolls, and cranberry sauce often weigh down the Thanksgiving table. 

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