Federal holidays in the United States

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In the United States, a federal holiday is a public holiday recognized by the United States federal government. Non-essential federal government offices are closed. All federal employees are paid for the holiday; those who are required to work on the holiday should receive holiday pay for that day in addition to their ordinary wages.

Federal holidays are designated by the United States Congress in Title V of the United States Code (5 U.S.C. § 6103).[1]

Constitutionally, there are no "national holidays" in the United States because Congress only has authority to create holidays for federal institutions (including federally owned properties) and employees, and for the District of Columbia. Instead, there are federal holidays, state holidays, city holidays, and so on.


List of Federal Holidays

Most of the eleven U.S. federal holidays are also state holidays. A holiday that falls on a weekend is usually observed on the closest weekday.[2]

DateOfficial NameRemarks
January 1New Year's DayCelebrates beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. Festivities often include countdowns to midnight (12:00 AM) on the preceding evening.
Third Monday in JanuaryMartin Luther King, Jr. DayHonors Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights leader, who was actually born on January 15, 1929; combined with other holidays in several states.
January 20, every fourth year, following Presidential electionInauguration DayInauguration of President of the United States and other elected federal officials. Observed only by federal employees who work in Washington, D.C., Montgomery or Prince George's counties in Maryland, Arlington or Fairfax counties in Virginia, or the cities of Alexandria or Falls Church in Virginia, in order to relieve congestion that occurs due to this major event.[3] Note: Observed on January 21 when the 20th is a Sunday even though the President is nonetheless inaugurated on the 20th.
Third Monday in FebruaryWashington's BirthdayHonors George Washington. Often popularly, but erroneously, observed as "Presidents Day" in recognition of other American presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln (who was born February 12). The legal name of the federal holiday, however, remains "Washington's Birthday". (It was historically observed on February 22, prior to passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act by Congress.)
Last Monday in MayMemorial DayAlso known as "Decoration Day", Memorial Day originated in the 19th century as a day to remember the soldiers who gave their lives in the American Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers. Later, the practice of decorating graves came to include members of one's own family, whether they saw military service or not. Memorial Day is traditionally the beginning of the summer recreational season in America. (It was historically observed on May 30, prior to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.)
July 4Independence DayCelebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Also popularly known as the "Fourth of July".[citation needed]
First Monday in SeptemberLabor DayCelebrates achievements of workers and the labor movement. Labor Day traditionally marks the end of the summer recreational season in America. The following day often marks the beginning of autumn classes in primary and secondary schools.
Second Monday in OctoberColumbus DayCelebrated since 1792 in New York City, honors the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the America who landed in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492 (according to the Julian calendar). In some areas it is also a celebration of Italian-American culture and heritage. Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Columbus Day in 1934 as a federal holiday at the behest of the Knights of Columbus (historically observed on October 12, prior to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act).
November 11Veterans DayAlso known as Armistice Day, and (although rarely in the US) occasionally called "Remembrance Day", 'Veterans Day' is the American name for the international holiday which commemorates the signing of the Armistice ending World War I. In the United States, the holiday honors all veterans of the United States Armed Forces, whether or not they have served in a conflict; but it especially honors the surviving veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan. The American holiday was briefly moved to the final Monday in October under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, but the change was greatly disliked and soundly criticized – among other reasons, because it put Veterans Day out of sync with international observance; so it was restored to November 11.[citation needed]
Fourth Thursday in NovemberThanksgiving DayAmericans have a turkey dinner such as the dinner shared by Native Americans and the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Historically, Thanksgiving was observed on various days, although by the 1930s it was observed on the last Thursday of November. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt fixed it on the fourth Thursday of November, at the request of numerous powerful American merchants. (Many Americans also receive the Friday following Thanksgiving Day off work, and so many people begin their Christmas shopping on that Friday. In years when November had five Thursdays instead of the more common four Thursdays, this week of delay could cause a substantial decrease in Christmas-related revenue for merchants.[citation needed])
December 25Christmas DayA worldwide holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Popular aspects of the holiday include decorations, emphasis on family togetherness, and gift giving. Designated a federal holiday by Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870.

The official names came from the laws that define holidays for federal employees. The "Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr." holiday is commonly called "Martin Luther King Day", and the "Washington's Birthday" holiday is often referred to as "Presidents' Day". Independence Day is often called "The 4th of July".[citation needed]

New Year's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Christmas Day are observed on the same calendar date each year. Holidays that fall on a Saturday are observed by federal employees who work a standard Monday to Friday week on the previous Friday. Federal employees who work on Saturday will observe the holiday on Saturday; Friday will be a regular work day. Holidays that fall on a Sunday are observed by federal workers the following Monday. The other holidays always fall on a particular day of the week.[4]

Federal law cannot compel state, municipal, or other local governments to observe or recognize federal holidays in any way (the Tenth Amendment effectively reserves holiday creation policy to the governments of the several states). Most states do recognize all federal holidays, however, although some are slower than others to adopt them. Arizona and New Hampshire notably refused to establish Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday as a legal holiday until long after the federal and 48 other state governments had already done so. California celebrates the date of admission to statehood, Admission Day, along with other holidays outlined in California Codes, Government Code Sections 6700-6721.[citation needed]

Private employers also cannot be required to observe federal or state holidays, although most businesses will close at least for New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Many businesses, other than retail establishments, also close on Thanksgiving Friday, that is, the day after Thanksgiving (sometimes as a mandatory vacation day instead of a true holiday). Some private employers are required by a union contract to pay a differential such as time-and-a-half or double-time to employees who work on some federal holidays. However, most non-unionized private sector employees only receive their standard pay for working on a federal holiday if it is not a designated holiday at their company.[citation needed]

Public holidays due to presidential proclamation

Federal law also provides for the declaration of other public holidays by the President of the United States. Generally the president will provide a reasoning behind the elevation of the day, and call on the people of the United States to observe the day "with appropriate ceremonies and activities." However, there is no requirement that business or government close on these days, and many members of the general public may not be aware that such holidays even exist. Holidays proclaimed in this way may be considered "national" holidays, but are not "federal" holidays.

For example, by Executive Order, President George W. Bush declared September 11, 2002, a "National Day of Mourning" in honor of those that died in the September 11 terrorist attacks and ordered all executive departments, independent establishments, and other governmental agencies closed. This did not apply to governmental agencies that should remain open for reasons of national security or defense or other essential public business.

Controversy, criticism, and social views

Some people have objected to honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. and Christopher Columbus with holidays. In particular, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina opposed the creation of Martin Luther King Day.[5] As a result, Martin Luther King Day took several years to gain national acceptance and is called "Civil Rights Day" in some locations. Some local jurisdictions observe "Indigenous Peoples of the Americas Day" instead of "Columbus Day". Similarly, public schools in the US increasingly refer to the vacation taken near and after Christmas (traditionally, "Christmas Break") as "Winter Holiday" or "Winter Break", avoiding the implication that all students are obligated to observe Christian holidays.[citation needed]

See also


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