United States Federal Holidays
New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day marks the first day of the year, January 1st, according to the Gregorian calendar. Many cultures celebrate this day as it marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next. For many, this day is symbolic in that it gives us an opportunity to reflect, look back, to assess our accomplishments and failures, and it marks an opportune time to resolve to make positive changes for the future. Many celebrations occur to ring in the new year including fireworks at midnight, parades, special sporting events, time with family, and for many New Year’s Day is a day of recovery from New Year’s Eve celebrations the previous night.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Officially, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (MLK Day) is a holiday honoring the life, achievements, sacrifices and legacy of the influential civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King sought to end racial segregation and to promote racial equality and justice in the United States. On this day, we commemorate his ideals of universal and unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness and nonviolence. The MLK Day holiday occurs on the third Monday of January.
George Washington’s Birthday
George Washington’s birthday, sometimes known as President’s Day, honors the life and work of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Some states also pay homage to Abraham Lincoln on this holiday, as his birthday was also in mid-Feburary. It is common for schools to plan lessons and events for students about U.S. presidents and George Washington, in particular. Many retail outlets have promotional sales around this holiday which occurs on the third Monday in February.
Memorial Day is a holiday in which Americans honor the men and women who died while serving in the U. S. military, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, participating in parades, and holding events designed to honor those members of the military who lost their lives as a result of their service. Many retail outlets have promotional sales during this time, and unofficially, Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season. Sometimes Memorial Day is confused with Veterans Day, the later occurring in November and designed to honor all who have served in the military (vs. those who have died as a result of their service). Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May.
Independence Day, also know as the 4th of July, is celebrated every year on July 4th. This day is the anniversary of the public declaration of independence of the United States from Great Britain in 1776. It commemorates the birth of the United States as an independent nation. Patriotic displays, fireworks, parades, retail sales, and family events such as bar-b-ques are held throughout the United States during this holiday.
Labor Day in the United States is a holiday that honors the American labor movement. It is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers and honors the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. It is celebrated with parties, parades, retail sales, and athletic events. Unofficially, Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans, with many children returning to start a new academic school year around this time. Labor day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.
Columbus Day is a holiday designed to remember the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas on October 12, 1492. Although Columbus was not the first explorer to arrive in the Western Hemisphere, his landing opened the way for Europeans to settle in America. The holiday is controversial because the European settlements in America led to much cruelty, suffering, and to the eventual demise of the indigenous people. Columbus Day is celebrated by schools organizing activities geared toward learning about the historical contribution of Christopher Columbus. Many retail outlets have promotional sales during this time. Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October.
Veterans Day is a day in which Americans thank veterans who have served in the United States military for their contributions, patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for their country. Originally, this day was known as “Armistice Day,” which was the anniversary of the ending of hostilities between the Allied Nations and Germany during World War I. “Armistice Day” was meant to honor those who died in World War I, but was amended in the 1940’s to honor all veterans who have served in the U.S. military. This holiday is not to be confused with Memorial Day which is a holiday in May that celebrates those who died while in military service. Americans celebrate Veteran’s Day by holding parades, patriotic events, and retail sales. Veteran’s Day falls annually on November 11.
Thanksgiving Day is a commemoration of the “First Thanksgiving” which was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World. The feast lasted three days and was attended by both Native Americans and Pilgrims. Symbolically, Thanksgiving is a day where all members of the community give thanks for the blessings of life and is a celebration of divine favor and kindness. Simply, we are to be thankful for what we have. Americans traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving by having a special meal with family and friends. The meal usually includes turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and vegetables. Parades are usually held around the country with the most notable being the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade held in New York City. Many high profile athletic events are held during this time. Unofficially, Thanksgiving Day marks the opening of the Christmas shopping season. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.
Christmas Day is a day in which many Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. There are many religious and cultural celebrations during this time. Some of the most common traditions in the U.S. are to erect a Christmas tree, decorate the home, exchange gifts, prepare a special meal with either ham or turkey being the main dish, visit friends and family, and attend a religious ceremony held at a church. Christmas Day occurs annually on December 25.