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Public Holidays in the US

The only public holidays observed nationwide are federal holidays, officially established by the US administration. They often mark a specific event in the history of the United States. New Year’s Day and Christmas Day are the only exceptions to this rule.
July 4th is the national holiday of the USA.

On federal holidays, schools, banks and most businesses are usually closed. However, keep in mind that this is not the case on every holiday: ask your employer or the staff at your kid’s school if you are not sure. Most federal holidays are therefore scheduled for a Monday or Friday to ensure a long weekend.

Federal Holidays

Below, we list the nine federal holidays that are observed in all 50 states. However, there is an additional holiday: Inauguration Day, on which the new term of the US president commences, is celebrated every four years.

  • New Year’s Day (January 1st)
  • Martin Luther King Day (third Monday in January): Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American clergyman, was an important figure in the civil rights movement. He fought peacefully for the rights of African-American citizens. His birthday (actually Jan 15th) is celebrated in commemoration of his efforts.
  • Washington’s Birthday (third Monday in February): Celebrated in honor of George Washington, the first president of the United States, it may also be referred to as “President’s Day”.
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May): Originally honoring those who lost their lives in the American Civil War (1861-65), Memorial Day now serves to commemorate all American soldiers who have died in a war.
  • Independence Day (4th of July): This is the national holiday of the United States. July 4th 1776 is the day the Declaration of Independence from British rule was adopted by the 13 original states. Independence Day is an occasion for attending summer picnics, concerts, firework shows, as well as patriotic parades.
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September): Celebrated in honor of workers and the labor movement in the United States, it also marks the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year.
  • Veterans Day (November 11th): The day of the Armistice with Germany ending the First World War, Veteran’s Day honors the veterans and soldiers of all American wars.
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November): Thanksgiving is one of the most famous national traditions, celebrating the first meal shared between colonists and Native Americans. It also marks the end of harvest season, and the beginning of the Christmas and holiday season.
  • Christmas Day (December 25th)

The holiday calendar also has two further notable days, namely Flag Day and Columbus Day. The former, while still widely celebrated as the day the flag of the US was originally adopted, failed to become a federal holiday. Instead it led to Flag Week (the week of June 14th), on which citizens are expected to fly the flag from their homes. Government institutions do likewise.

The latter, Columbus Day (the second Monday in October), is the only federal holiday not to be observed by all states. Some states, such as Oregon, do not observe the day at all, while others have established alternative holidays on the same day in lieu of celebrating what is criticized as a holiday commemorating imperialism and conquest. Examples include Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota and Indigenous People’s Day in California.

It should be noted that not all public holidays come with large celebrations. Some of them merely give you the chance of having a day off from work and spend some time with family and friends.

Other Public Holidays

In the US, the individual states have the right to establish their own public holidays that are not observed by the federal government. These include, for example, holidays honoring the traditions of an ethnic or cultural group, notable members of the community, or certain days of religious significance. To find out which public holidays are observed in your state of residence, check with the website of its respective state government. For a full list of all state government websites, please see usa.gov.

Some selected examples:

  • Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus, is observed in 13 states.
  • Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Fat Tuesday, is a state holiday in Alabama and Louisiana.
  • Statehood Day, June 1st, is a state holiday in Tennessee and Kentucky.
  • Emancipation Day (a.k.a. Juneteenth), commemorating the abolition of slavery, is observed in 37 states.
  • Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is a state holiday in 17 states.

 

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