Federal holidays in the United States are public holidays that have been recognized by the U.S. federal government. On these days, non-essential federal government offices are closed, and every federal employee is paid for the holiday.
Federal holidays are designated by the United States Congress in Title V of the United States Code (5 U.S.C. § 6103). The Congress has the authority to create holidays only for federal institutions (including federally owned properties) and employees, and for the District of Columbia.
However, as a general rule, federal holidays are observed by all states because federal offices are closed on those days. The states have the option to adopt these holidays for their government offices, schools, and other public institutions, or to recognize other days as their state holidays.
It’s worth noting that private businesses, companies, and schools are not required to close on federal holidays, nor are they required to pay their employees extra for working on those days, unless it’s a part of their policy or employment contract.
US Public Holidays:
New Year’s Day (January 1)
Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January)
Presidents’ Day (third Monday in February)
Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19)
Independence Day (July 4)
Labor Day (first Monday in September)
Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
Veterans Day (November 11)
Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November)
Christmas Day (December 25)
In addition to these, Inauguration Day (January 20) is a federal holiday every four years in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas to celebrate the inauguration of the President and Vice President.
NameDate (Typical)DescriptionNew Year’s DayJanuary 1Marks the start of the new calendar year, celebrated with fireworks, parties, and resolutions.Martin Luther King Jr. DayThird Monday in JanuaryHonors Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader. Often observed with community service efforts.Presidents’ DayThird Monday in FebruaryOriginally established to honor George Washington’s birthday, it’s now viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents.Memorial DayLast Monday in MayCommemorates those who have died in military service for the U.S. Marked by ceremonies, parades, and private remembrance.Juneteenth National Independence DayJune 19Commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved African Americans were informed of their freedom. Celebrated with events to honor African American culture and history.Independence DayJuly 4Celebrates the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the U.S. as an independent nation. Observed with fireworks, barbecues, and other patriotic displays.Labor DayFirst Monday in SeptemberHonors the American labor movement and the contributions of laborers. Often marked by parades and barbecues.Columbus DaySecond Monday in OctoberCommemorates Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1492. Observance varies and is controversial in some areas.Veterans DayNovember 11Honors all veterans of the U.S. armed forces, recognizing the service of all U.S. military veterans.Thanksgiving DayFourth Thursday in NovemberA day to give thanks for the autumn harvest and blessings of the past year. Often celebrated with a family feast.Christmas DayDecember 25Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, also widely celebrated as a secular, cultural holiday with gift-giving and family gatherings.
Other American holiday types
Besides federal holidays, there are several other types of holidays and observances in the United States, including:
State Holidays: Each state can establish its own legal holidays. For example, Texas recognizes San Jacinto Day, and Massachusetts celebrates Patriots’ Day. Hawaii observes King Kamehameha I Day, while Alaska has Seward’s Day.
Religious Holidays: These are significant days according to various religious traditions. Christmas is recognized as a federal holiday, but there are many other important religious holidays that aren’t federal holidays, such as Easter, Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Ramadan, among others.
Hallmark Holidays or Popular Celebrations: These holidays are widely recognized and often celebrated, but they’re not official federal or state holidays. They include Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, and others.
Ethnic and Cultural Holidays: Some holidays are primarily celebrated within specific ethnic or cultural communities but are recognized and celebrated by others as well. Examples include Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth (now a federal holiday), Lunar New Year, Diwali, and Kwanzaa.
Commemorative Observances: These are days, weeks, or months designated to raise awareness of a topic. Examples include Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Earth Day (April 22), Pride Month (June), and Hispanic Heritage Month (mid-September to mid-October).
It’s important to note that while these holidays and observances may be widely recognized and celebrated, they may not come with the day off work that federal and state holidays usually provide (unless an employer chooses to observe them).
Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about the topic of holidays:
How many public holidays are there in the US?
There are 11 federal holidays in the U.S. as of my last update in September 2021. However, the number of public holidays can be larger when taking into account state-specific holidays, which vary by state.
Are public holidays paid in the USA?
Yes, federal employees are paid for federal holidays, and they don’t have to work on those days unless they’re considered essential personnel. For private sector employees, it depends on the company policy. There’s no federal law requiring private employers to provide paid time off on federal holidays.
What is the biggest holiday in America?
This can depend on the criteria used to define “biggest”. Christmas Day is widely celebrated across the country with significant traditions associated with it, making it one of the biggest holidays in a cultural sense. Thanksgiving also garners a lot of attention with family gatherings and meals, parades, and as the start of the holiday shopping season.
What are the three biggest holidays in the USA?
In terms of widespread celebration and cultural significance, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day could be considered the three biggest holidays. However, this can vary depending on cultural, regional, and personal factors.
What is the busiest holiday in the US?
Thanksgiving is often considered one of the busiest holidays, particularly because of the travel associated with it, as many people travel to be with family. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
What holiday makes the most money?
From a retail perspective, the winter holiday season, which includes Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the days leading up to Christmas, is the most lucrative period for most businesses. The commercialization of Christmas has led to a significant increase in sales during this period. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Easter also tend to generate substantial revenues in certain industries.