National Holidays in the United States

Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Whether it is the barbeque and fireworks, snowball fights and caroling, or just a day off of school or work, we all look forward to the next holiday. In this lesson, we'll highlight the ten official federal holidays in the United States.


Before we jump into talking about specific holidays, let's make sure we understand what holidays we are actually discussing. U.S. law establishes ten national holidays. These are holidays on which federal government buildings are closed and federal employees get a day off of work. Many states have additional holidays specific to their history, and both public and private organizations may close on other holidays. Also, just because a holiday is a national holiday doesn't mean all organizations are closed. To limit the scope of this lesson though, let's just learn about the ten federally recognized national holidays.

New Year's Day

New Year's Day in the United States is January 1 of each year. This day marks the beginning of a new year and many Americans celebrate it beginning the night before, on New Year's Eve. A common practice on New Year's is to make resolutions, or goals for the New Year.

Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is perhaps the most famous and most active and ardent of the leaders for the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. He was born on January 15, so while the day of the week his actual birthday falls on varies, the third Monday each January is celebrated in his honor.

Washington's Birthday

George Washington was the first president of the United States and a famous general in the Revolutionary War. He was born on February 22, but the holiday that honors his birth has been designated as the third Monday each February. This holiday is commonly called 'Presidents Day' and has come to be a day of remembrance for many past presidents, not just Washington.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. The primary purpose when the holiday was originally established was to remember those that lost their lives in the Civil War. Over time, however, it has become a day of remembrance for all of the veterans that have died fighting for the United States in any war.

Independence Day

Independence Day is also known as the 4th of July. Obviously, it is celebrated on July 4 each year. This holiday marks the day on which the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. It is a very patriotic holiday and is often celebrated with parades, fireworks, and summer activities in neighborhoods throughout the United States.

Labor Day

Labor Day has been celebrated since 1886 and is focused on the achievements of the working people of the United States. More than 80 countries have a comparable holiday, and many celebrate it on the same day as the U.S. -- the first Monday in September. There isn't any historical significance to that day, but the holiday was designated on that day as a sort of 'last weekend of summer.'

Columbus Day

Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas on October 12, 1492. To celebrate his landing, the U.S. has designated the second Monday in October as Columbus Day. First celebrated as a national holiday in 1937, Columbus Day has become less celebrated since the late 1980s. Most state agencies, companies, and even many schools are open on Columbus Day.

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