Quiz: Are You an Expert in American Traditions?: HowStuffWorks
Are You an Expert in American Traditions?
By: Emily Maggrett
7 Min Quiz
Image: Sharon Vos-Arnold / Moment / Getty Images
About This Quiz
The United States has more than its fair share of unusual traditions. Because American society is highly multicultural, Americans observe many types of customs, from religious rituals to inherited immigrant traditions to Native American- and Mesoamerican-derived practices.
Of course, the customs you grew up with vary greatly depending on where you were raised. Folks in Utah likely don't understand what a Maine bean suppah is, while Mainers would be hard-pressed to guess what goes into Southwest favorite frog eye salad. May crownings aren't celebrated very often in Washington State, while most Southerners are horrified by the very concept of the New Yorker's delight, a polar bear plunge.
Do you consider yourself to be extremely knowledgeable about American traditions from all 50 states? If so, we think you'll be delighted with this quiz. We've put together several challenging trivia questions about America's many rituals, holidays and superstitions. Be warned: these questions will test the expertise of even the most experienced Americana masters. If you get half of them right, we'll be incredibly impressed! So, are you ready to prove that you know America inside and out? Hit pause on whatever else you're doing and play this quiz!
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Do you know what a polar bear plunge is?
This winter swimming event might seem crazy, but people across the Northern U.S. have made the Polar Bear Plunge an annual ritual. One of the largest plunges takes place in Long Beach, New York, on Super Bowl Sunday. Since 1998, this event has raised significant funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
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When autumn comes, how do Americans celebrate it?
Native to North America, pumpkins are a uniquely Yankee foodstuff. Although other cuisines use pumpkin in savory recipes, Americans mostly eat it in soup and pie form. Nonetheless, fall pumpkin picking is an important American ritual, as it helps families get ready for Halloween and Thanksgiving.
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Do you know what a king cake looks like?
King cakes are a Mardi Gras tradition! Made of brioche dough and decorated with royal Mardi Gras colors, king cakes also contain baby figurines. According to Louisiana superstition, the person who finds the baby in their slice of cake will be blessed with good luck.
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Southerners hang Easter eggs on which unusual object?
Every spring, many Southerners choose to decorate their trees with Easter eggs. This tradition is German in origin, but Americans have made it their own by using indoor trees rather than outdoor trees, and by using plastic eggs in lieu of the real kind.
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What's served at a Maine "bean suppah"?
A centuries-old tradition, Maine's bean suppahs are community meals that often take place at churches. The menu for a bean suppah is usually filled with foodstuffs that grow easily in Maine, such as yellow-eye or navy beans, corn and cabbage.
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In the U.S., what time do people normally eat dinner?
While most Americans think it's normal to eat dinner at 6 p.m., the rest of the world does not agree! Most Europeans dine at 8 p.m., while people in Spain eat dinner between 9 p.m. and midnight.
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Although this dish was invented by Mexican-American women from Texas, dads everywhere love to compete at cooking it. What are we talking about?
American dads love chili con carne. Many of them enjoy celebrating this flavorful Tex-Mex stew via competitive chili cook-offs. Hundreds of chili cook-offs are held across the United States each year, some of them judged by professional chefs.
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A mud run is ... ?
It's unclear when mud runs began, but they've become one of the most popular types of American races. Participants have to slog through several obstacles, including a mud pit. Perhaps because of their ridiculous nature, mud runs attract more families than other types of races or marathons.
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When visiting someone else's home, what should you bring with you?
While a gift for the children or a side dish might be welcomed by your hosts, most Americans don't bring such things with them when they dine at each other's homes. Instead, Americans bring a "hostess gift," which is usually an inexpensive decoration or edible present.
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At a New England Thanksgiving, which set of traditional dishes would you definitely expect to see?
New England's Thanksgiving dishes reflect this region's colonial roots. Creamed onions originated in England, while oyster stuffing is a Pilgrim tradition that stems from New England's plentiful seafood. Hasty pudding, a type of corn dessert, was also invented by the Pilgrims.
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In the South, which part of their houses do people paint "haint blue"?
In the Carolina Low Country, some people believe that ghosts, or "haints," can't cross water. They paint their porch ceilings blue, in simulation of water, to prevent these spirits from entering their homes. Outside of South Carolina, many Southerners have taken up this practice.
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The day after Thanksgiving is a major shopping day in the U.S. What's it called?
Retailers have been holding day after Thanksgiving sales on the day after Thanksgiving since the early '50s, but this event only recently became known as Black Friday. Although stores advertise Black Friday as if it's a well-established tradition, it didn't become the busiest shopping day of the year until 2005.
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A Southern tradition, this custom allows parade viewers to join in the fun. What's its name?
The Second Line is a custom that originated in New Orleans. It sanctions the practice of bystanders joining parades after the official parade performers have passed by. An African-American tradition, members of the Second Line usually parade in African-based dance styles.
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The traditional New Year's Day meal in Pennsylvania is ...
The cuisine of Pennsylvania has been heavily influenced by the culinary traditions of the Dutch and German immigrants who settled there. Hence, Pennsylvanians often eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day, as Dutch folklore holds that this will bring them prosperity.
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How would you define "Decoration Day"?
Rural Southern communities, especially in Alabama, observe "Decoration Day" on the same date as Memorial Day. For this holiday, Southerners clean their loved one's graves, placing flowers by their headstones.
This American state requires restaurants to put a curtain around their bars. Can you guess which state has this law?
Utah's largely Mormon population has traditionally frowned on alcohol consumption. Because of this, Utah restaurants that serve alcohol are required to put up a "Zion curtain" partition that screens bartenders from the sight of patrons. Zion curtain laws were partially reformed in 2017.
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This tradition, which is Native American in origin, is used by some Westerners to "purify" their homes. What is it?
Burning sage, or "smudging," was invented by several Native American groups, including the Lakota, Chumash and Cahuilla peoples. It involves directing sage smoke through all the rooms of a house, in order to cleanse it of bad energies. Recent studies have found that sage smoke is antibacterial.
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What do Southerners eat on Easter?
Although many Americans don't care for them, Southerners are quite fond of deviled eggs. They eat them on Easter, alongside other dishes that generally aren't served hot, such as Jello salad, potato salad and ham.
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A Cajun custom, this tradition involves building Christmas bonfires along which river?
Southerners rarely get to enjoy a white Christmas, so they have to find novel ways to celebrate the holiday. On Christmas Eve, many Cajuns light bonfires along the Mississippi River, in the belief that this will "light the way" for Santa.
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Do you know what "noodling" is?
Mostly practiced in the Southern U.S., "noodling" is a type of fishing that involves catching catfish without any gear or equipment. To perform it, the noodler puts their hand near a catfish hole. When the catfish swims out, it gets impaled on the noodler's arm.
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This choreographed dance can be done with or without a partner. What's it called?
A uniquely American dance form, country line dancing is the descendant of contra folk dancing. Its participants line up and perform pre-planned moves while facing in the same direction. In the '80s, specific country line dances were invented for hit country songs, such as "Achy Breaky Heart."
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If you're from the Southwest, you definitely know what frog eye salad is ... Or do you?
Frog eye salad hails from Utah, but has spread to surrounding states, including California, New Mexico and Arizona. It's a sweet pasta salad made from acini di pepe pasta, canned fruit, marshmallows and (sometimes) egg yolks. While its name is less than appetizing, this unique recipe has many fans.
When non-Native Americans tried to make money from this tradition, they were sued by the Lakota Nation. Can you guess which custom we're talking about?
A religious tradition of the Plains Indians, sweat lodges are used for healing ceremonies. In 2009, the Angel Valley Retreat Center caused the deaths of three people by conducting a fraudulent sweat lodge event. The Lakota Nation subsequently sued them.
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Females who want to attend this American horse race are required to wear which item of clothing?
According to USA Today, when the first Kentucky Derby was held at Churchhill Downs, its managers contacted local women's clubs and invited them to attend while wearing their fanciest outfits. Decades later, this tradition continues, with hats featuring roses being especially favored by attendees.
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Some Americans still practice this tradition, which involves banging pots and pans outside a newly married couple's home on their wedding night. Do you know what it's called?
A folk custom that takes the form of a rude wedding night serenade, shivarees are a Midwestern frontier tradition. They're not intended to be hostile; instead, they're a sort of community prank on newlyweds.
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According to most Americans, what type of occasions warrant a thank-you note?
In an ideal world, Americans would write thank-you notes for all of the above occasions. However, in the modern era, the occasions seen as most deserving of a thank-you note are being given a wedding gift or being granted a job interview, as these are both potentially life-changing events.
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When this movie is screened, American viewers all over the country dress up as its characters and perform skits as it plays. What's its name?
Thanks to its huge cult following, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is longest-running release in film history. After hitting the big screen in 1975, this classic film spurred fans to turn attending it into a ritual, complete with costumes and scripted audience responses.
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Can you define what a "May crowning" is?
Many Roman Catholic Americans still celebrate May crowning, a spring ritual celebrating the Virgin Mary. Held on May 1, it involves young girls marching in procession while carrying flowers, which they use to adorn a statue of Mary. For the rest of May, these flowers are continually replaced.
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Americans love driving so much that we have a word for the activity of driving aimlessly. It's called _________.
Cruising first became popular in the '40s, when it started to be common for American teenagers to have their own cars. It quickly evolved into its own culture, with special cruising "strips" being designated as especially fun cruising sites. Today, some cities still have laws against cruising.
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Have you ever been to a "picking party"?
According to the Washington Post, a picking party is a gathering "where people use musical instruments to speak to each other." Common in states where country and bluegrass music are played, picking parties continue to be popular across the U.S.
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After Halloween, some American communities celebrate this holiday, which has its origin in Mexico. Can you name it?
Also known as El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 2. In Aztec tradition, it's believed that this is the day when the gates of heaven are open and the dead can visit their families. Participants serve their loved one's favorite food, so that they can "dine" together.
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In Hawaii, sushi is sometimes made with which canned ingredient?
Spam sushi was invented by Japanese-American internment camp prisoners during World War II, but spread quickly across Hawaii, thanks to the large military presence in the Aloha State at the time. Called Spam musubi, Spam sushi is still a popular snack today.
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Can you recall the name of this radical American arts festival, which takes place in Nevada every year?
Burning Man is an annual arts event that draws tens of thousands of people. Held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, this summer festival is deeply infused with radical politics. Although many celebrities now attend it, Burning Man still has a vibrant underground culture.
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What's the name for the party that is held in a stadium parking lot before a sports game takes place?
A pre-game festivity, tailgate parties originally took place in football stadium parking lots. Their name stems from the fact that food and beverages are often served on the tailgates of participating vehicles. Today, tailgate parties occur at all sorts of events, including concerts and weddings.
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Surely the oddest U.S. holiday, this celebration involves closely monitoring a rodent's behavior. What is it?
Held on February 2, Groundhog Day has its roots in Pennsylvania Dutch superstition. As folklore has it, if a groundhog sees its shadow on this day, winter will last for another six weeks. The 1993 comedy "Groundhog Day" helped popularize this holiday.
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