ON THE CALENDAR TODAY
Federal holidays in the United States
In the United States, federal holidays are the ones that the US government acknowledges and celebrates as free from work. Federal employees are paid regular wages and workers in the private sector, who might be expected to come to work, sometimes receive bonus payment on top of their usual salary.
Regulations concerning federal holidays can be found in Title 5 of the United States Code, which takes effect every year according to the provisions of the US Congress; the government can only administer vacation for federal institutions, but public establishments such as schools usually comply.
Throughout the year, there are 11 fixed holidays that apply to the entire country, but it is best to always check whether a particular day is off in our state. If not, most probably there is another date that a given community celebrates during the year – it is called a state or a city holiday.
First federal holidays came in June 28, 1870, when Congress established: New Year's Day, Independence Day (July 4), Thanksgiving (Floating Thursday, a day between November 22 - 28), and Christmas exclusively for the federal employees in the District of Columbia. The law spread to all states within 15 years.
Since 1880, new holidays have been successively added to the group:
- in 1880, it was George Washington’s Birthday, now celebrated on a Floating Monday (unfixed day between February 15 - 21);
- in 1888 – Decoration Day, which nowadays we call Memorial Day (Floating Monday May 25 - 31);
- in 1894 – Labor Day, celebrated on a Floating Monday September 1 – 7.
In the 20th century, there were established:
- 1938 – Armistice Day, now Veterans Day celebrated on November 11;
- 1957 – Inauguration Day, which is celebrated in DC, LA, MD, and VA on January 20, when a new president is inaugurated after the election from the previous year;
- 1968 – Columbus Day (Floating Monday October 8 - 14);
- 1983 – Martin Luther King’s Birthday (Floating Monday, January 15 - 21).
Not all of the dates mentioned above were set instantly. Congress created the particular holidays in order to accentuate the importance of these events in American history. In the recent years, groups of citizens attempted at changing the legislation, e.g. by introducing a new holiday or adding an important figure’s name to the celebration of an existing holiday.
Federal employees never lose a day off work: when a fixed-date holiday turns out to be on Saturday, a standard work week is shortened by a day, which means that the holiday is observed on Friday. If an employee usually works on Saturday, Friday is still obligatory, but the next day is free. Any time the holiday comes on Sunday, the day off is Monday. These rules do not apply for example to Texas, which recognizes different holidays than DC. This state exceptionally does not celebrate Columbus Day, but perceives Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas as valid.
When it comes to the private sector, employees, as mentioned earlier, may or may not receive a higher salary; everything depends on the policies of the employers, who are not forced to comply with the federal law. After all, federal holidays may produce huge losses to companies, as they do to the public sector; yearly celebrations are not cheap.
Apart from the money problem, federal holidays sometimes incite heated discussions or even controversies. The best example is Columbus Day, which, in the native communities, means a celebration of massive murder. Same communities are not given the privilege of Native Americans’ Day, however; from September 15 - 21, there is a period recognized as “Native American Awareness Week,” but none of these days is a federal holiday.
Moreover, although 90% of Americans admit to celebrating Christmas, there are controversies concerning this date, because, though admittedly significant, the day according to some scholars should not be connected to the Christian belief any more. As always, some claims are more legit than others; all is a matter of subjective views.