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American Culture: Traditions and Customs of the United States

Diversity
As a nation of immigrants, the United States has been influenced by many cultures.
Credit: R. Gino Santa Maria | Shutterstock

American culture encompasses the customs and traditions of the United States, including language, religion, food and the arts. Nearly every region of the world has influenced American culture, as it is a country of immigrants, most notably the English who colonized the country beginning in the early 1600s. U.S. culture has also been shaped by the cultures of Native Americans, Latin Americans, Africans and Asians.

The United States is sometimes described as a "melting pot" in which different cultures have contributed their own distinct "flavors" to American culture. Just as cultures from around the world have influenced American culture, today American culture influences the world. The term Western culture often refers broadly to the cultures of the United States and Europe.

As the third largest country in the word with a population of more than 315 million, the United States is the most culturally diverse country in the world. The Northeast, South, Midwest, Southeast and Western regions of the United States all have distinct traditions and customs. Here is a brief overview of the culture of the United States.

Language

There is no official language of the United States, although 31 of 50 states have made English their official language or given it exceptional status. More than 90 percent of the U.S. population speaks and understands at least some English, and most official business is conducted in English.

While almost every language in the world is spoken in the United States, Spanish, Chinese, French and German are among the most frequently spoken non-English languages. Each region of the United States, in particular the South, has its own spin on the language with unique pronunciations and phrases.

Religion

Nearly every known religion is practiced in the United States, which was founded on the basis of religious freedom. More than 75 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. About half are Protestant, about one-quarter are Catholic, and a small percentage are Mormon. After Christianity, Judaism is the second most-identified religious affiliation, at about 1.4 percent of the population. About 20 percent of the population has no religious affiliation.

cowboy
The cowboy is an American icon of style and attitude.
Credit: Sascha Burkard | Shutterstock

American style

Clothing styles vary by region and climate, but the American style of dressing is predominantly casual. Denim, sneakers and cowboy hats and boots are some items of clothing that are closely associated with Americans. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Victoria Secret are some well-known American brands. American fashion is widely influenced by celebrities.

American food

American cuisine has been influenced by Europeans and Native Americans in its early history. Today, there are a number of foods that are commonly identified as American, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips, macaroni and cheese and meat loaf. "As American as apple pie" has come to mean something that is authentically American.

There are also styles of cooking and types of foods that are specific to a region. Southern-style cooking is often called American comfort food and includes dishes such as fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and corn bread. Tex-Mex, popular in Texas and the Southwest, is a blend of Spanish and Mexican cooking styles and includes items such as chili and burritos and relies heavily on shredded cheese and beans.

Arts

The United States is widely known around the world as a leader in mass media production, including television and movies. The television broadcasting industry took hold in the United States in the early 1950s and American television programs are shown around the world. The United States also has a vibrant movie industry, centered in Hollywood, and American movies are popular worldwide.

New York is home to Broadway and Americans have a rich theatrical history.

American folk art is an artistic style and is identified with quilts and other hand-crafted items.

American music is very diverse with many, many styles, including rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, country and western, bluegrass, rock 'n' roll and hip hop.

baseball
Baseball is called America's favorite pastime.
Credit: Digital Media Pro | Shutterstock

Sports

The United States is a sports-minded country, with millions of fans who follow football, baseball, basketball and hockey, among other sports. The game of baseball, which was developed in colonial America and became an organized sport in the mid-1800s, is known as America’s favorite pastime, although its popularity has been eclipsed by football.

American holidays

Americans celebrate their independence from Britain on July 4. Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday in May, honors those who have died in military service. Labor Day, observed on the first Monday in September, celebrates country’s workforce. Thanksgiving, another distinctive American holiday, falls on the fourth Thursday in November and dates back to colonial times to celebrate the harvest. Presidents’ Day, marking the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, is a federal holiday that occurs on the third Monday in February. The contributions of veterans are honored on Veterans’ Day, observed on Nov. 11. The contributions of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. are remembered on the third Monday in January.

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