Make your holiday more than just a day off—take opportunities to explore the social history surrounding special days and find out where your family fit into the festivities.
Find out where happily ever after began by investigating the details of your ancestors' courtship or marriage. Look around the house for love letters, diaries, jewelry, guest books, wedding albums and invitations. Resources to research include family Bibles, banns, church records, newspaper announcements and marriage certificates.
St. Patrick's Day
More than half of Americans can say "Kiss me, I'm Irish" and mean it. The Irish Potato Famine, which reached its zenith between 1846 and 1851, sparked one of that country's largest migrations—more than a million people fled to American and Canada. See The Irish Potato Famine and Views of the Famine and read Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845—1850 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin, $18).
Easter and Passover
Find out how your family participates in the rich traditions surrounding these springtime holidays. Write down special recipes, customs and stories, and take photographs or videotape of the celebration. You can put them in a book, CD or DVD that documents your family heritage. Add background information from www.easter-traditions.com or www.happypassover.net.
Once called Decoration Day after the practice of leaving flowers at gravesites, this day is set aside for remembering service members who died while serving their country. Participate in a memorial service or research a family member who died at war. Talk to relatives who remember him or her, and use historical newspaper articles (such as those in the Library of Congress' WWI rotogravure collection) and Web sites such as the US Army Center of Military History.
Celebrate the country's birthday and those who brought it about by touring the NARA's online exhibit of America's founding documents. Get to know the players in Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts (Harper Perennial, $14.95) and Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence by Benson J. Lossing (Wallbuilder Press).
Scare yourself silly ancestor—style by watching old thrillers such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, or Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic, Psycho. If that's not enough, bury your nose in real—life murder mysteries of yesteryear. Try The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Mass., 1892, by Rick Geary (Nantier Beall Minoustchine).
This day, which was Armistice Day until 1954, is dedicated to all who've served in the armed forces during war or peacetime. Interview a veteran in your family, or get other GI's stories in their own words through the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project or Andrew Carroll's War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars (Scribner) or Behind the Lines: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters—and One Man's Search to Find Them (Scribner).
Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwaanza
Here are more holidays full of traditions—and opportunities to share them with younger folks. At gatherings, tell stories about family customs and how Uncle Bill toppled the Christmas tree while placing the star on top. Bring a video camera or tape recorder to capture the memories.
Honor ancestors on their birthdays by finding out what happened that date through the years. See This Day in History or Today in History.