What’s the US Holiday Act

by CiCi
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In the United States, holidays are not merely days off work or school; they are deeply ingrained cultural and historical markers that reflect the nation’s values, traditions, and collective memory. Among the various legislative frameworks that shape the observance of holidays in the U.S., the Holiday Act stands out as a significant piece of legislation. Understanding its provisions, historical context, and implications is essential for grasping the intricacies of the American holiday landscape.

Historical Background

The roots of the US Holiday Act can be traced back to the earliest days of the nation. While the concept of holidays existed long before the modern era, it was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the federal government began to formally recognize and regulate them. The establishment of federal holidays was seen as a way to unify the diverse population of the United States and foster a sense of national identity.


One of the key milestones in the development of federal holidays was the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968. This legislation sought to standardize the observance of certain holidays by moving their celebration to designated Mondays, thereby creating long weekends for workers and promoting domestic tourism. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was instrumental in shaping the modern holiday calendar in the United States.


The US Holiday Act: Overview and Provisions

The US Holiday Act, also known as the Federal Holidays Act, is a federal statute that codifies the official holidays recognized by the United States government. Enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President, this legislation establishes the criteria for designating public holidays and provides guidelines for their observance.

Key provisions of the US Holiday Act include:

  • Designation of Federal Holidays: The act designates certain days each year as federal holidays, during which government offices, banks, and many businesses are closed. These holidays typically commemorate significant events, historical figures, or cultural traditions that hold national importance.
  • Criteria for Designation: Federal holidays must meet specific criteria to be officially recognized. They should have historical or cultural significance, be widely celebrated across the country, and reflect the values and principles of the American people.
  • Observance by Federal Agencies: The US Holiday Act requires federal agencies and departments to observe designated holidays by closing their offices and granting employees time off from work. This ensures uniformity in the celebration of holidays across the federal government.
  • Impact on Private Sector: While federal holidays are mandatory observances for government institutions, their impact on the private sector varies. Many private businesses choose to close on federal holidays as well, but there is no legal requirement for them to do so.
  • Recognition of State Holidays: While the US Holiday Act establishes federal holidays, it does not preempt the designation of holidays by individual states. As such, states have the authority to recognize additional holidays that are specific to their history, culture, and traditions.

Major Federal Holidays Recognized Under the US Holiday Act

The US Holiday Act designates several federal holidays that are celebrated nationwide. These holidays hold significant cultural, historical, or religious importance and are observed by millions of Americans each year. Some of the major federal holidays recognized under the act include:

  • New Year’s Day: Celebrated on January 1st, New Year’s Day marks the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. It is a time for reflection, resolutions, and festivities, including parties and fireworks displays.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Observed on the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors the civil rights leader’s contributions to the fight for racial equality and social justice in America.
  • Presidents’ Day: Originally established to commemorate George Washington’s birthday, Presidents’ Day (celebrated on the third Monday in February) now honors all past U.S. presidents and their contributions to the nation.
  • Memorial Day: Observed on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day honors the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military. It is a day of remembrance and reflection, often marked by ceremonies, parades, and visits to cemeteries and memorials.
  • Independence Day: Celebrated on July 4th, Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, declaring independence from British rule. It is marked by patriotic displays, fireworks, barbecues, and other festivities.
  • Labor Day: Observed on the first Monday in September, Labor Day honors the contributions of American workers and the labor movement to the nation’s prosperity and well-being. It is often celebrated with picnics, parades, and other recreational activities.
  • Thanksgiving Day: Celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day is a time for expressing gratitude for the blessings of the past year, including the harvest and the company of loved ones. It is traditionally celebrated with a festive meal, including turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.
  • Christmas Day: Observed on December 25th, Christmas Day commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ and is celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike with religious observances, gift-giving, and festive decorations.

Critiques and Controversies

While the US Holiday Act has been instrumental in standardizing the observance of federal holidays, it has also faced criticism and controversy. Some of the key critiques include:

  • Exclusionary Nature: Critics argue that the current list of federal holidays primarily reflects the cultural and religious heritage of the dominant majority in the United States, often overlooking the contributions and experiences of minority communities.
  • Commercialization: Many federal holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, have become heavily commercialized, with the focus shifting away from their original meanings and traditions towards consumerism and materialism.
  • Labor Rights: While Labor Day ostensibly honors American workers, critics point out that the holiday has been co-opted by retailers and corporations to promote sales and discounts, overshadowing its original purpose of celebrating workers’ rights and achievements.
  • Colonial Legacy: Some federal holidays, such as Columbus Day, have come under scrutiny for celebrating historical figures and events that are associated with colonialism, imperialism, and the oppression of indigenous peoples.


The US Holiday Act plays a significant role in shaping the American cultural landscape by codifying the official holidays recognized by the federal government. While providing a framework for the observance of holidays, it also reflects the nation’s values, history, and traditions. However, the act is not without its flaws and controversies, and ongoing discussions about its scope, inclusivity, and relevance are essential for ensuring that holidays continue to serve as meaningful expressions of national identity and unity.

Related topics:

Is Workers’ Day a Public Holiday in the USA?

Exploring the Six Federal Holidays in the United States

The Most Popular US Public Holidays


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