Federal holidays in the United States

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Federal holidays in the United States
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Observed byU.S. government

Federal holidays in the United States are the eleven calendar dates that are designated by the U.S. government as holidays. During U.S. federal holidays, non-essential federal government offices are closed and federal government employees are paid for the holiday.[1]

Federal holidays are designated by the United States Congress in Title V of the United States Code (5 U.S.C. § 6103).[2] Congress only has authority to create holidays for federal institutions (including federally-owned properties), employees, and the District of Columbia. Although not required, as a general rule of courtesy, other institutions, such as banks, businesses, schools, and the stock market, may be closed on federal holidays. In various parts of the country, state and city holidays may be observed concurrently with 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."[3] 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 in 1870 were:

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. Armistice Day was established in 1938 to honor the end of World War I, and the scope of the holiday was expanded to honor Americans who fought in World War II and the Korean War when it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act gave several holidays "floating" dates so that they always fall on a Monday, and also established Columbus Day.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law, and it was first observed three years later, although some states resisted. It was finally celebrated by all 50 states in 2000.[4]

Christmas Day as a federal or public holiday is sometimes objected to by various sources,[5][6][7] usually due to its ties with Christianity. In December 1999, the Western Division of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, in the case Ganulin v. 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".[8][9]

On June 17, 2021, Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.[10][11][12][13]

List of federal holidays[edit]

Most of the 11[14] 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).[15] The official names come from the statute that defines holidays for federal employees.

Date Official Name[2] Date established Details
January 1
New Year's Day June 28, 1870 Celebrates the 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 displays and parties. The ball drop at Times Square in New York City, broadcast live on television nationwide, has become a national New Year's festivity. Serves as the traditional end of the Christmas and holiday season.[16]
January 15–21
(Floating Monday)
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. November 2, 1983[17] Honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights leader who was born on January 15, 1929. Some municipalities hold parades, and since the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act, it has become a day of citizen action volunteer service (sometimes referred to as the MLK Day of Service). The holiday is observed on the third Monday of January, and is combined with other holidays in several states.
February 15–21
(Floating Monday)
Washington's Birthday 1879 Honors George Washington, Founding Father and the first U.S. president, who was born on February 22, 1732. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted the date of the commemoration from February 22 to the third Monday in February, meaning the observed holiday never falls on Washington's actual birthday. Because of this, combined with the fact that Abraham Lincoln's birthday falls on February 12, many now refer to this holiday as "Presidents' Day" and consider it a day honoring all American presidents. However, the official name has never been changed.[2]
May 25–31
(Floating Monday)
Memorial Day 1971[18] Honors U.S. military personnel who have fought and died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Many municipalities hold parades with marching bands and an overall military theme, and the day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season. The holiday is observed on the last Monday in May.
June 19
Juneteenth National Independence Day June 17, 2021 Commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans on the anniversary of the 1865 date when emancipation was announced in Galveston, Texas. Celebratory traditions often include readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs, rodeos, street fairs, family reunions, cookouts, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests.
July 4
Independence Day 1870 (as an unpaid holiday for federal employees)

1938 (as a federal holiday)

Celebrates the 1776 adoption of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, also called the Fourth of July. Parades, picnics, and cookouts are held during the day and fireworks are set off at night. On the day before this holiday, the stock market trading session ends three hours early.
September 1–7
(Floating Monday)
Labor Day 1894 Honors and recognizes the American labor movement. Over half of Americans celebrate Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer,[19] although roughly 40% of employers require some employees to work on the holiday.[20] The holiday is observed on the first Monday in September.
October 8–14
(Floating Monday)
Columbus Day 1968 Honors Christopher Columbus, whose exploration of the Americas from 1492 to 1504 marked the beginning of large scale European immigration to the Americas. In some areas it is instead a celebration of Native Americans (Indigenous Peoples' Day); in other areas it celebrates Italian culture and heritage. 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
Veterans Day 1938 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 1941 Traditionally celebrates the giving of thanks for the autumn harvest, and commonly includes the sharing of a turkey dinner. Several large parades are broadcast on television, and football games are often held. 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
Christmas Day 1870 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 some non-Christians with various religious and secular traditions. On the day before this holiday, the stock market trading session ends three hours early.[21]

New Year's Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Christmas Day are observed on the same calendar date each year, irrespective of the day of the week. For floating holidays, when a holiday falls on a Saturday, federal employees who work Monday to Friday 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.[15]

Inauguration Day, held on January 20 every four years following a quadrennial presidential election, is considered a paid holiday for federal employees in the Washington, D.C., area by the Office of Personnel Management. However, it is not considered a federal holiday in the United States equivalent to the eleven holidays mentioned above.[22]

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.[23] 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).[23]

Private employers also are not 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. Employees not specifically covered by a union contract, however, might only receive their standard pay for working on a federal holiday, depending on the company policy.

Legal holidays due to presidential proclamation[edit]

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.

Proposed federal holidays[edit]

Many federal holidays have been proposed. 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 much effort to pass[24] and for all states to recognize it. It was not until 2000 that this holiday was officially observed in all 50 states.[25]

The following list is an example of holidays that have been proposed and reasons why they are not observed at the federal level. 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.[26] It falls on the same day as Washington's Birthday.
March 10
Harriet Tubman Day The holiday was proposed by Representative Brendan Boyle in H.R. 7013 in March 2022.[27]
March 25–31
(Floating Monday)
Cesar Chavez Day The holiday was proposed by Representative Joe Baca in H.R. 76 and was further endorsed by President Barack Obama.[28]
May 15–21
(Floating Monday)
Malcolm X Day The holiday was proposed in H.R. 323 in 1993 and 1994 by Congressman Charles Rangel.[29]
June 14
Flag Day Proposed several times, and became a national observance when President Harry Truman signed it into law.[30]
September 11
September 11 Day of Rememberence The holiday was proposed by Representative Lee Zeldin in H.R. 5303 and Senator Marsha Blackburn in S. 2735 in September 2021.[31]
September 15–21
(Floating Monday)
Native Americans' Day The holiday was petitioned for and introduced in Congress multiple times but was unsuccessful. The proclamation exists today as "Native American Awareness Week."[32]
November 2–8
(Floating Tuesday)
Election Day / Democracy Day Multiple movements for this holiday to be official have occurred, with the last happening during discussions for the "1993 Motor Voter Act", mainly to boost voter turnout.[33]
December 1
Rosa Parks Day Proposed as part of HR 5111 on September 3, 2021.[34]


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.[35] 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."[36] Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa,[37] Louisiana,[38] Maine, Minnesota,[39] New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina,[40] 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, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin instead recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day as an alternative holiday.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Holidays". U.S. Department of Commerce. Archived from the original on September 13, 2022. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Gaylor, Annie (April 19, 2013). "Let's Observe Dec. 25, but not as Christmas". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "GANULIN v. U.S." www.leagle.com. Leagle, Inc. December 6, 1999. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  10. ^ Wagner, Meg; Mahtani, Melissa; Macaya, Melissa; Rocha, Veronica; Alfonso III, Fernando (June 17, 2021). "Live updates: Biden signs Juneteenth bill". CNN. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  11. ^ Whitehouse.gov: Bill Signed: S. 475
  12. ^ "A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021". The White House. June 18, 2021. Retrieved June 19, 2021.
  13. ^ "Remarks by President Biden at Signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act". The White House. June 18, 2021. Retrieved June 19, 2021.
  14. ^ "Federal, state, and local holidays". hr.commerce.gov. US Department of Commerce. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Federal Holidays". www.opm.gov. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Archived from the original on November 10, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Glass, Andrew (November 2, 2017). "Reagan establishes national holiday for MLK, Nov. 2, 1983". POLITICO. Retrieved June 1, 2022.
  18. ^ "Public Law 90-363".
  19. ^ 52% Celebrate Labor Day As Unofficial End of Summer Archived February 13, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Rasmussen Reports (September 3, 2012).
  20. ^ [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).
  21. ^ Gray, Stanley (September 23, 2021). "Christmas in United States of America". westgateresorts.com. Westgate Resorts. Archived from the original on October 23, 2021. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  22. ^ "Holidays Work Schedules and Pay". U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Ross, Shmuel; Johnson, David (February 11, 2017). "The History of Martin Luther King Day". InfoPlease. Retrieved September 12, 2020.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ Smith, Ian (March 15, 2022). "Another Federal Holiday? Bill Would Create "Harriet Tubman Day"". FedSmith.com. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  28. ^ "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.
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ Duane Streufert. "National Flag Day". www.usflag.org. Archived from the original on February 24, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  31. ^ Smith, Ralph R. (September 24, 2021). "Creating New Federal Holidays: 9/11 Holiday Latest Proposal". FedSmith.com. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  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.
  34. ^ "Seeking Another Federal Holiday (and a Day Off for Federal Employees)".
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ Duffy, Molly. "Iowa marks first Indigenous Peoples Day". The Gazette. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  38. ^ "October 14 proclaimed to be Indigenous Peoples' Day in Louisiana". wafb.com. September 16, 2019. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  39. ^ "Indigenous Peoples Day Proclamation" (PDF). mn.gov. October 10, 2016.
  40. ^ "State Of North Carolina Indigenous Peoples' Day Proclamation" (PDF). Retrieved June 19, 2021.

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