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American Holidays

Official information and services from the U.S. government

Americans celebrate a variety of holidays throughout the year. American holidays can be secular, religious, international or uniquely American. With the wide variety of holidays and the many levels of American government it can be confusing to determine what public and private facilities are open on a given holiday. You can usually find out in the daily newspaper or by calling the office you wish to visit.

New Year's Day is January 1st. The celebration of this holiday begins the night before, when Americans gather to wish each other a happy and prosperous coming year. Many Americans make New Year's Resolutions.

Martin Luther King Day is the third Monday in January. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was an African-American clergyman who is recognized for his tireless efforts to win civil rights for all people through nonviolent means.

Presidents' Day is observed the third Monday of February to honor the legacy of all past presidents of the United States. Before 1971, February 12 and February 22 were observed as federal public holidays to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22). In 1971, President Richard Nixon proclaimed one single federal public holiday, the Presidents' Day.

Valentine's Day, is celebrated on February 14th. The day was named after an early Christian martyr, and on Valentine’s Day, Americans give presents like candy or flowers to the ones they love.

Easter falls on a spring Sunday that varies from year to year. Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians, Easter is a day of religious services and the gathering of family. Many Americans follow old traditions of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving children baskets of candy.

Memorial Day is observed the last Monday of May. It originally honored the people killed in the American Civil War, but has become a day on which the dead of all wars, and the dead generally, are remembered in special programs held in cemeteries, churches, and other public meeting places. The flying of the American flag is widespread.

Independence Day is July 4th. This holiday honors the nation's birthday – the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It is a day of picnics and patriotic parades, a night of concerts and fireworks. The flying of the American flag is widespread.

Labor Day is the first Monday of September. This holiday honors the nation's working people, typically with parades. For most Americans it marks the end of the summer vacation season and the start of the school year.

Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October. The day commemorates October 12, 1492, when Italian navigator Christopher Columbus landed in the New World.

Halloween is celebrated on October 31. On Halloween, American children dress up in funny or scary costumes and go "trick or treating" by knocking on doors in their neighborhood. The neighbors are expected to respond by giving them small gifts of candy or money.

Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11th. Originally called Armistice Day, this holiday was established to honor Americans who had served in World War I, but it now honors veterans of all wars in which the U.S. has fought. Veterans' organizations hold parades, and the president places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November. The holiday dates back to 1621, when Puritans, who had just enjoyed a bountiful harvest, showed their gratitude to the Native Americans for their help by hosting a feast to give thanks. The Thanksgiving feast became a national tradition and almost always includes some of the foods served at the first feast: roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25. Christmas is a Christian holiday marking the birth of the Christ Child. Decorating houses and yards with lights, putting up Christmas trees, giving gifts, and sending greeting cards have become traditions even for many non-Christian Americans.

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