Holidays in the U.S.

General Information

The U.S. has adopted legislation that moved the celebration of several holidays to the Monday nearest the date of the event the holiday commemorated. The purpose of this legislation was to create as many "three-day weekends" (that is, Saturday-Sunday-Monday) as possible. The fact that the dates of holidays could be changed to provide longer vacations is seen by some as a reflection of Americans' general lack of concern for tradition.

Four principal national holidays--New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas--were not subjects of the date-changing legislation. They are still celebrated on the same day each year. Another principal holiday, Labor Day, has traditionally been on Monday. Many businesses and all government offices close in observance of these holidays.

Of the holidays on the following list, not all are celebrated throughout the U.S. and not all are celebrated by everyone. Some are holidays only for members of certain religions; others are for particular groups, such as lovers or children.

Holiday Calendar

The following list indicates which are legal holidays (when government offices are closed) and which are business holidays (when many businesses, except some drugstores, service stations, and food stores) are closed.

New Year’s Day, January 1

Celebration of New Year's Day usually occurs the night before, on "New Year's Eve," when it is common for groups of people to have a party to celebrate the coming of the new year. Alcoholic beverages are usually consumed at these parties. It is customary to make loud noises at midnight, when the new year officially arrives; embracing or kissing others at midnight is not unusual. A legal and business holiday; all University offices are closed.

Martin Luther King’s Birthday (January 15, but celebrated the third Monday in January)

A legal holiday in many states, including Iowa; all University offices are closed.

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12

It is a legal holiday in some U.S. states including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Indiana. See President's Day (February, third Monday).

St. Valentine’s Day, February 14

A day for lovers to exchange cards and/or gifts. Children in primary school usually exchange "valentine cards" with their classmates.

George Washington’s Birthday, February 22

See President's Day.

President’s Day, February, third Monday

Commemorates Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays.  A legal holiday.

Ash Wednesday, Date varies

Marks the beginning of the 40-day period of Lent, a period of penitence and fasting in some Christian denominations. On Ash Wednesday, some Christians attend a church service during which small ash marks are placed on their foreheads to symbolize man's ultimate return to dust.

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17

A day dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland.  Many people wear something green on this day.  Some communities have parades. Many bars sell green-colored beer.

Easter, date varies (sometime in March or April)

Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For children, baskets of candy and dyed, hard-boiled eggs are hidden by a mythical "Easter Rabbit" or "Easter Bunny." The children seek out the hidden eggs.

Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May

Gifts, cards and/or special attention are given to mothers and grandmothers.

Memorial Day, May 30 (or nearest Monday in May)

A legal and business holiday when homage is paid to U.S. soldiers who have died in wars; all University office closed.

Father’s Day, the third Sunday in June

Gifts, cards and/or special attention are given to fathers and grandfathers.

Flag Day, June 14

Flags are flown to mark the adoption of the American flag.

Independence Day (usually termed "the Fourth of July"), July 4

Parades, fireworks (which are now illegal in most states) and flags to celebrate the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. A legal and business holiday; all University offices closed.

Labor Day, the first Monday of September

A legal and business holiday noting the importance of labor and labor organizations; all University offices closed.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement

Both celebrated on varying dates in September or October.

Columbus Day, October 12 (or nearest Monday)

Commemorates the arrival of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus on the shores of North America. A legal holiday, but not a business one.

United Nations Day, October 24

Speeches and events to draw attention to the United Nations.

Halloween, October 31

A children's holiday, associated with carving faces on pumpkins called "jack-o'lanterns" and making witches, cats, and ghosts for decorations. Children often go to parties in costumes or go "trick or treating." "Trick or treating" means putting on a costume and going door-to-door in a neighborhood saying "trick or treat," and being given a piece of candy by the occupant of the house or apartment. Young children should be accompanied by an adult when trick or treating.

Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November

Not a legal or business holiday, but people may leave work briefly in order to vote in municipal, county, state and/or national elections.

Veteran’s Day, the second Monday in November

A legal holiday, honoring veterans of armed service.

Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November

A harvest celebration, stemming from harvest-time festivities in the original American colonies. A legal and business holiday when, traditionally, families gather and have a large meal that includes turkey and pumpkin pie; all University offices closed for the Thursday of and Friday after Thanksgiving.

Hanukkah, late November or (usually) December

An eight-day Jewish holiday marking the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. 

Christmas, December 25

The major U.S. holiday. It began as a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but is now also a widely celebrated day of feasting and gift-giving. Preparations, including gift-buying and decoration of homes and public places, begin as early as Thanksgiving.  "Santa Claus," a mythical figure, is said to visit the homes of children on the night of December 24 and leave gifts for them while they sleep. Many people send Christmas cards to their friends; all University offices closed for two days on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.