Federal Holidays and Dates

When Are Federal Holidays in the United States?

New Years Eve In Times Square, Bloomberg Mayor
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There are 11 federal holidays including Inauguration Day, when the president of the United States is sworn into office. Some federal holidays such as Christmas Day honor events that are sacred in some religions. Others pay tribute to important figures in U.S. history such as Martin Luther King Jr. and momentous dates and in the nation's founding such as Independence Day.

Federal government employees are given the day off, with pay, on federal holidays.

Many state and local governments, and some private businesses such as banks, allow their employees off on those holidays as well. Federal holidays are spelled out in the 1968 Uniform Holidays Bill, which grants federal employees a three-day weekend on Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day. When a federal holiday falls on a Saturday, it is celebrated the prior day; when a federal holiday falls on a Sunday, it is celebrated the following day.

List of Federal Holidays and Dates

  • New Year’s Day: January 1.
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.: Third Monday in January.
  • Inauguration Day: January 20 in the year after a presidential election.
  • George Washington’s Birthday: Third Monday in February.
  • Memorial Day: Last Monday in May.
  • Independence Day: July 4.
  • Labor Day: First Monday in September.
  • Columbus Day: Second Monday in October.
  • Veterans Day: November 11.
  • Thanksgiving: Fourth Thursday in November.
  • Christmas: December 25.

Local and state governments establish their own holiday schedules, as do businesses. Most U.S. retailers are closed on Christmas, but many open on Thanksgiving Day to allow shoppers to begin their holiday buying before the traditional start of the season, Black Friday.

History of Federal Holidays

  • New Year's Day is a holiday in most countries.
  • Martin Luther King Day, celebrating the birth of the civil rights leader, is the most recent of the federal holidays. The movement for Martin Luther King Day began shortly after his death in 1968. In 1983, Congress passed the King Day Bill. The law creating the federal holiday in King's name went into effect in 1986. The day was first celebrated in all 50 states in 2000.
  • In 1879, Congress declared George Washington's birthday a federal holiday. In 1968, Congress shifted the commemoration date of February 22 to the third Monday in February.
  • Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, honors the nation's war dead and is the unofficial beginning of summer. It was created to commemorate those who died during the War Between The States but has been expanded to include other wars. The official birth of the holiday took place in 1886 in Waterloo, New York. 
  • Independence Day has been celebrated on the Fourth of July since 1777, and it commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
  • Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. It also marks the return to school for many children in the United States. It was created to celebrate the achievements of workers in 1882. Its corollary in other countries is their May 1 Labor Day celebration.
  • Columbus Day recognizes the man traditionally credited with discovering the Americas. There are similar holidays in Latin American and Caribbean countries. The first Columbus Day celebration was held in New York in 1792. Since 1971, Columbus Day is commemorated on the second Monday in October; this is also Thanksgiving in Canada. Since 1966, the Muscular Dystrophy Association has held an annual telethon on this date.
  • Veterans Day honors all veterans of the United States armed forces and is also a state holiday in all 50 states. In other places around the world, this celebration is known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. This holiday is formally celebrated only by federal and state governments and banks.
  • Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Its history begins with the first European settlers: in Virginia in 1619 and Massachusetts in 1621. The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777. Then in 1789, George Washington created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the U.S. government. However, it was not until Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of thanks in 1863 that the holiday became an annual one.
  • Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and is the only federally recognized religious holiday.
Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Gill, Kathy. "Federal Holidays and Dates." ThoughtCo, Oct. 18, 2016, thoughtco.com/public-holidays-in-the-united-states-3368327. Gill, Kathy. (2016, October 18). Federal Holidays and Dates. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/public-holidays-in-the-united-states-3368327 Gill, Kathy. "Federal Holidays and Dates." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/public-holidays-in-the-united-states-3368327 (accessed December 16, 2017).