Federal holidays in the United States

In the United States, a federal holiday is a calendar date that is recognized and designated by the federal government of the United States as a holiday. Every year on a U.S. federal holiday, non-essential federal government offices are closed, stock market trading is usually suspended, and every federal government employee is paid for the holiday. The U.S. government recognizes 10 federal holidays.

Federal holidays are designated by the United States Congress in Title V of the United States Code (5 U.S.C. § 6103).[1] Congress has authority to create holidays solely for federal institutions (including federally owned properties), employees, and for the District of Columbia. Although not required, as a general rule of courtesy, other institutions, such as banks and schools may be closed on those days. In various parts of the country, state and city holidays may be observed in addition to the federal holidays.


The history of federal holidays in the United States dates back to June 28, 1870, when Congress created federal holidays "to correspond with similar laws of States around the District ... and ... in every State of the Union."[2] Although at first applicable only to federal employees in the District of Columbia, Congress extended coverage in 1885 to all federal employees.

The original four holidays were:

  • New Year's Day
  • Independence Day
  • Christmas Day
  • Thanksgiving Day

George Washington's Birthday became a federal holiday in 1879. In 1888 and 1894, respectively, Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) and Labor Day were created. In 1938, Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) was created to mark the end of World War I. The scope and the name of the holiday was expanded in 1954 to honor Americans who fought in World War II and the Korean War.

In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted several holidays to always fall on a Monday and saw the establishment of Columbus Day.

In 1983, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. became the nation's most recently established holiday. [3]

List of federal holidays

Most of the ten[4] U.S. federal holidays are also state holidays. A holiday that falls on a weekend is usually observed on the closest weekday (e.g. a holiday falling on a Saturday is observed on the preceding Friday, while a holiday falling on a Sunday is observed on the succeeding Monday).[5] The official names came from the laws that define holidays for federal employees.

Date Official Name Details
January 1 (Fixed) New Year's Day[1] Celebrates beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. Festivities include counting down to 12:00 midnight on the preceding night, New Year's Eve, often with fireworks display and party. The ball drop at Times Square in New York City has become a national New Year's festivity. Traditional end of Christmas and holiday season.[6]
January 15–21 (Floating Monday) Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader, who was actually born on January 15, 1929; combined with other holidays in several states. Some cities and municipalities hold parades; and more recently, the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act, which was passed to encourage Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service, has gained in popularity (sometimes referred to as a National Day of Service or American Civil Rights Day). The holiday is observed on the third Monday of January.
February 15–21 (Floating Monday) Washington's Birthday Washington's Birthday was first declared a federal holiday by an 1879 act of Congress. The Uniform Holidays Act, 1968, shifted the date of the commemoration of Washington's Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February (between February 15 and 21, meaning the observed holiday never falls on Washington's actual birthday). Because of this, combined with the fact that President Lincoln's birthday falls on February 12, many people now refer to this holiday as "Presidents' Day" and consider it a day honoring all American presidents. However, neither the Uniform Holidays Act nor any subsequent law changed the name of the holiday from Washington's Birthday to Presidents' Day.[1]
May 25–31 (Floating Monday) Memorial Day Honors the nation's war dead from the Civil War onwards; marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season. (traditionally May 30, shifted by the Uniform Holidays Act 1968). The holiday is observed on the last Monday in May.
July 4 (Fixed) Independence Day Celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, also called the Fourth of July. Fireworks celebrations are held in many cities throughout the nation. On the day before this holiday, the stock market trading session ends three hours early.
September 1–7 (Floating Monday) Labor Day Honors and recognizes the American labor movement. 52% of Americans celebrate Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer,[7] although roughly 40% of employers require some employees to work on the holiday.[8] The holiday is observed on the first Monday in September.
October 8–14 (Floating Monday) Columbus Day Honors Christopher Columbus, an explorer of the Americas who was actually in search of a route to India. In some areas it is instead a celebration of Indigenous Peoples, or Italian culture and heritage; traditionally October 12. The holiday is observed on the second Monday in October, and is one of two federal holidays where stock market trading is permitted.
November 11 (Fixed) Veterans Day Honors all veterans of the United States armed forces. It is observed on November 11 to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice with Germany went into effect); it is one of two federal holidays where stock market trading is permitted.
November 22–28 (Floating Thursday) Thanksgiving Day Traditionally celebrates the giving of thanks for the autumn harvest. Traditionally includes the sharing of a turkey dinner. The holiday is observed on the fourth Thursday in November. On the day after this holiday, the stock market trading session ends three hours early.
December 25 (Fixed) Christmas Day The most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year, Christmas is observed as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Commonly celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike with various traditions. On the day before this holiday, the stock market trading session ends three hours early.

New Year's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Christmas Day are observed on the same calendar date each year, irrespective of the day of the week. When a holiday falls on a Saturday, federal employees who work Monday to Friday week observe the holiday on the previous Friday. Federal employees who work on Saturday observe the holiday on Saturday and, for them, Friday is 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 specific day of the week.[5]

Although many states recognize most or all federal holidays as state holidays, the Federal government cannot enact laws to compel them to do so. Furthermore, states can recognize other days as state holidays that are not federal holidays. For example, the State of Texas recognizes all federal holidays except Columbus Day, and in addition recognizes the Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and the day after Christmas as state holidays.[9] Furthermore, Texas does not follow the federal rule of closing either the Friday before if a holiday falls on a Saturday, or the Monday after if a holiday falls on a Sunday (offices are open on those Fridays or Mondays), but does have "partial staffing holidays" (such as March 2, which is Texas Independence Day) and "optional holidays" (such as Good Friday).[9]

Private employers also cannot be required to observe federal or state holidays, the key exception being federally chartered banks. Some private employers, often by a union contract, 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]

Legal 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." Examples of presidentially declared holidays were the days of the funerals for former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Gerald Ford; federal government offices were closed and employees given a paid holiday.

Controversy and criticism

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Some individuals and organizations have objected to the federal status of certain holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Columbus Day. For example, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina opposed the creation of the federal holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. when it was approved in the Senate 78-22 in 1983.[10]

Columbus Day

Protests by the Native American community support the abolition of Columbus Day, mainly due to its ideology in forcefully conquering and converting whole populations with another and encouraging imperialism and colonization.[11] Glenn Morris of The Denver Post wrote that Columbus Day "... is not merely a celebration of Columbus the man; it is the celebration of a racist legal and political legacy - embedded in official legal and political pronouncements of the U.S. - such as the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny."[12]

Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa,[13] Louisiana,[14] Maine, Minnesota,[15] New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina,[16] Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin do not recognize Columbus Day, though other states such as Hawaii and South Dakota mark the day with an alternative holiday or observance. South Dakota is the only state to recognize Native American Day as an alternate. Hawaii recognizes Discoverer's Day. Other states such as Maine, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin instead recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day as an alternative holiday.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day as a federal or public holiday is also sometimes objected to by various sources,[17][18][19] usually due to its ties with the Christian religion. In December 1999, the Western Division of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, in the case Ganulin vs. United States, denied the charge that Christmas Day's federal status violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, ruling that "the Christmas holiday has become largely secularized", and that "by giving federal employees a paid vacation day on Christmas, the government is doing no more than recognizing the cultural significance of the holiday".[20][21]

Proposed federal holidays

Many proposed federal holidays have come up over time. According to an article from CBS, federal holidays are generally "expensive" and they only allow federal workers to take the day off. As the U.S. federal government is a large employer, the holidays are expensive. If a holiday is controversial, opposition will generally prevent bills enacting them from passing. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, marking King's birthday, took a lot of effort to pass.[22] And once it did pass, it took more effort for all states to eventually recognize it. It was not until 2000 that this holiday was officially observed in all 50 states.[23]

The following list is an example of holidays that have been proposed and have reasons why they are not observed at the federal level today. Some of these holidays are observed at the state level.

Date Official Name Details
February 15–21 (Floating Monday) Susan B. Anthony Day The holiday was proposed by Carolyn Maloney in H.R. 655 on February 11, 2011.[24] It falls on the same day as Washington's Birthday.
March 25–31 (Floating Monday) Cesar Chavez Day The holiday was proposed by California Democrat Joe Baca in H.R. 76 and was further endorsed by President Barack Obama.[25]
May 15–21 (Floating Monday) Malcolm X Day The holiday was proposed in H.R. 323 in 1993 and 1994 by Congressman Charles Rangel.[26]
June 14 Flag Day Proposed several times, but only to become a national observance when President Harry Truman signed it into law as such.[27]
June 19 Juneteenth Proposed by Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012 as a national day of observance. Efforts re-emerged in 2020 following the Killing of George Floyd, including a federal holiday proposal from Senator John Cornyn, also from Texas.[28][29][30] Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have proposed Juneteenth replace Columbus Day as a federal holiday.[31]
September 15–21 (Floating Monday) Native Americans' Day The holiday was petitioned for multiple times and was introduced into Congress multiple times, but was unsuccessful. The proclamation exists today as the "Native American Awareness Week."[32]
November 2–8 (Floating Tuesday) Election Day / Democracy Day There have been multiple movements for this holiday to be official, with the last happening during discussions for the "1993 Motor Voter Act", mainly to boost voter turnout.[33]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "5 U.S. Code § 6103 – Holidays". www.law.cornell.edu. Cornell University Law School - Legal Information Institute. Archived from the original on July 9, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2014.
  2. ^ "Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices" (PDF). www.fas.org. Congressional Research Service. May 9, 2014. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  3. ^ "Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application - U.S. Senate" (PDF). www.senate.gov. Congressional Research Service. February 8, 1999. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  4. ^ "Federal, state, and local holidays". hr.commerce.gov. US Department of Commerce. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "2010 Federal Holidays". www.opm.gov. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Archived from the original on July 4, 2010. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  6. ^ Borgna Brunner (December 16, 2004). "New Year's Traditions". www.infoplease.com. infoplease. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved March 3, 2014.
  7. ^ 52% Celebrate Labor Day As Unofficial End of Summer Archived February 13, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Rasmussen Reports (September 3, 2012).
  8. ^ [Over 40 Percent of Employers to Require Some to 'Labor' on Labor Day Holiday, According to Nationwide Bloomberg BNA Survey], Bloomberg BNA (August 27, 2015).
  9. ^ a b "Official Texas State Holidays". www.tsl.texas.gov. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. 2017. Archived from the original on April 13, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  10. ^ Church, George (October 31, 1983). "A National Holiday for King". Time. Time Inc. Archived from the original on June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
  11. ^ Cristogianni Borsella (2005). On Persecution, Identity, and Activism. Dante University Press. ISBN 9780937832417. Archived from the original on February 14, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  12. ^ Glenn T. Morris (April 10, 2007). "Abolish Columbus Day". www.denverpost.com. The Denver Post. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  13. ^ Duffy, Molly. "Iowa marks first Indigenous Peoples Day". The Gazette. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  14. ^ "October 14 proclaimed to be Indigenous Peoples' Day in Louisiana". wafb.com. September 16, 2019. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  15. ^ "Indigenous Peoples Day Proclamation" (PDF). mn.gov. October 10, 2016.
  16. ^ "State Of North Carolina Indigenous Peoples' Day Proclamation" (PDF).
  17. ^ Robin, Marci (December 9, 2014). "Christmas Should Not Be a National Holiday". time.com. Time Inc. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  18. ^ Gaylor, Annie (April 19, 2013). "Let's Observe Dec. 25, but not as Christmas". www.nytimes.com. The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  19. ^ "Why Should the Federal Government Celebrate the Birth of a God". www.dailykos.com. Daily Kos. December 10, 2011. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  20. ^ Austin Cline (December 7, 1999). "Ganulin v. U.S.: Court Rules U.S. Government Can Recognize Christmas as Official Paid Holiday". skepticism.org. Austin Cline. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  21. ^ "GANULIN v. U.S." www.leagle.com. Leagle, Inc. December 6, 1999. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  22. ^ Jason DeRusha (January 16, 2012). "Good Question: What Does It Take For A Federal Holiday?". minnesota.cbslocal.com. CBS Local Media. Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  23. ^ Ross, Shmuel; Johnson, David (February 11, 2017). "The History of Martin Luther King Day". InfoPlease. Retrieved September 12, 2020.
  24. ^ "H.R. 655 - Susan B. Anthony Birthday Act". www.gpo.gov. U.S. Government Publishing Office. February 11, 2011. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  25. ^ "Barack Obama calls for National Holiday for Cesar E. Chavez". www.cesarchavezholiday.org. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  26. ^ "H.J.Res.323 - Declaring May 19 a national holiday and day of prayer and remembrance honoring Malcolm X (Al Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz)". www.congress.gov. Library of Congress. February 10, 1994. Archived from the original on February 1, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  27. ^ Duane Streufert. "National Flag Day". www.usflag.org. Archived from the original on February 24, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  28. ^ "Texas senator proposes national Juneteenth holiday to celebrate the end of slavery".
  29. ^ "What is Juneteenth 2020, the holiday marking the end of US slavery?".
  30. ^ "GOP Senator to Advance Bill Designating Juneteenth a Federal Holiday".
  31. ^ "GOP senators propose swapping Columbus Day with Juneteenth as federal holiday".
  32. ^ "A History of National Native American Heritage Month: The Nation's Efforts to Honor American Indians and Alaska Natives". www.bia.gov. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  33. ^ Martin P. Wattenberg (1998). "Should Election Day be a Holiday?". www.theatlantic.com. The Atlantic Monthly Company. Archived from the original on May 13, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2017.

External links