Holidays in America

Updated February 2, 2020 | Factmonster Staff

The major federal, religious, traditional, and informal holidays celebrated in the United States


* These holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


New Year's Day (Wed., January 1, 2020)

A federal holiday in the United States, New Year's Day has its origin in Roman times, when sacrifices were offered to Janus, the two-faced Roman deity who looked back on the past and forward to the future.

New Year's Celebrations

Epiphany (Mon., January 6, 2020)

Epiphany (from Greek epiphaneia, "manifestation"), falls on the 12th day after Christmas. It commemorates the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, as represented by the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the miracle of the wine at the marriage feast at Cana. One of the three major Christian festivals, along with Christmas and Easter. Epiphany originally marked the beginning of the carnival season preceding Lent, and the evening preceding it is known as Twelfth Night.

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday (Mon., January 20, 2020)

A federal holiday observed on the third Monday in January that honors the late civil rights leader. It became a federal holiday in 1986.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chinese New Year (Sat., January 25, 2020)

The most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, the New Year is a time for family reunions. In the United States, however, many early Chinese immigrants arrived without their families, and found a sense of community by celebrating the holiday through neighborhood associations.

Commemorative Stamp-Chinese New Year

*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


Groundhog Day (Sun., February 2, 2020)

Legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow, he'll return to his hole, and winter will last another six weeks.

Groundhog Day

Lincoln's Birthday (Wed., February 12, 2020)

A holiday in a few states, this day was first formally observed in Washington, DC, in 1866, when both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address in tribute to the assassinated president. In some places, it is combined with Washington's Birthday and celebrated as President's Day.

Abraham Lincoln

St. Valentine's Day (Fri., February 14, 2020)

Originally a pagan festival, the holiday eventually was recast as a Christian feast day in honor of St. Valentine-but there are at least three different early saints by that name. How the day became associated with romance remains obscure, and is further clouded by various fanciful legends.

Valentines Day

Washington's Birthday or Presidents' Day (Mon., February 17, 2020)

A federal holiday observed the third Monday in February. The actual date of Washington's birthday is Feb. 22. It is a common misconception that the federal holiday was changed to "Presidents' Day" and now celebrates both Washington and Lincoln. Only Washington is commemorated by the federal holiday; 13 states, however, officially celebrate "Presidents' Day."

Presidents Day

Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) (Tues., February 25, 2020)

Shrove Tuesday falls the day before Ash Wednesday and marks the end of the carnival season, which once began on Epiphany but is now usually celebrated the last three days before Lent. In France, the day is known as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), and celebrations are held in several American cities, particularly New Orleans. The day is sometimes called Pancake Tuesday by the English because fats, which were prohibited during Lent, had to be used up.

Mardi Gras

Ash Wednesday (Weds., February 26, 2020)

The seventh Wednesday before Easter and the first day of Lent, which lasts 40 days. Having its origin sometime before A.D. 1000, it is a day of public penance and is marked in the Roman Catholic Church by the burning of the palms blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday. With the ashes from the palms the priest then marks a cross with his thumb upon the forehead of each worshipper. The Anglican Church and a few Protestant groups in the United States also observe the day, but generally without the use of ashes.


Purim (Feast of Lots) (Tues., March 10, 2020)*

A day of joy and feasting celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from a massacre planned by the Persian minister Haman. According to the Book of Esther, the Jewish queen Esther interceded with her husband, King Ahasuerus, to spare the life of her uncle, Mordecai, and Haman was hanged on the same gallows he had built for Mordecai. The holiday is marked by the reading of the Book of Esther (the Megillah), by the exchange of gifts, and by donations to the poor.


St. Patrick's Day (Tues., March 17, 2020)

St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, has been honored in America since the first days of the nation. Perhaps the most notable observance is the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City.

Saint Patrick

*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


April Fool's Day (Wed., April 1, 2020)

The origins of April Fool's Day are uncertain. Some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons, while others believe it stems from the adoption of a new calendar.

April Fools Day

Palm Sunday (Sun., April 5, 2020)

Observed the Sunday before Easter to commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Passover (Pesach) (Fri., April 10, 2020)*

The Feast of the Passover, also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, commemorates the escape of the Jews from Egypt. As the Jews fled, they ate unleavened bread, and from that time the Jews have allowed no leavening in their houses during Passover, bread being replaced by matzoh.


*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.

Good Friday (Fri., April 10, 2020)

The Friday before Easter, it commemorates the Crucifixion, which is retold during services from the Gospel according to St. John. A feature in Roman Catholic churches is the Liturgy of the Passion; there is no Consecration, the Host having been consecrated the previous day. The eating of hot-cross buns on this day is said to have started in England.

Easter (Sun., April 12, 2020)

Observed in all Western Christian churches, Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or next after the vernal equinox (fixed at March 21) and is therefore celebrated between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. This date was fixed by the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

Easter Basket and Easter Eggs
  • Origins of Easter
  • Guide to the Dates of Easter and Passover
  • Easter Around the World

Orthodox Easter (Pascha) (Sun., April 19, 2020)

The Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar when calculating Easter, rather than the more contemporary Gregorian calendar. For this reason, Orthodox Easter generally falls on a different date than the Western Christian Easter.

First Day of Ramadan (Fri., April 24, 2020)*

This day marks the beginning of a month-long fast that all Muslims must keep during the daylight hours. It commemorates the first revelation of the Qur'an. Following the last day of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr is celebrated on May 24, 2020.


*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


May Day (Fri., May 1, 2020)

Although celebrated with far greater fanfare in other countries, May Day in the United States is a celebration of Spring as well as a day honoring organized labor.

Girls Around the Maypole

Cinco de Mayo (Tues., May 5, 2020)

Cinco de Mayo is often referred to as Mexico's Independence Day, but actually marks the 1862 battle in Puebla when a small, outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French, a turning point in Mexico's struggle for independence. Ironically, it is a holiday that is in fact more beloved by Americans than by Mexicans.

Cinco de Mayo, The Fifth Day of May

VE-Day (Fri., May 8, 2020)

VE-DAY marks formal celebration of the Allies' victory in Europe during World War II.

Mother's Day (Sun., May 10, 2020)

Observed the second Sunday in May, as proposed by Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia in 1907. West Virginia was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1910, and President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed Mother's Day a national holiday in 1914.

Mothers Day Quotations

Ascension Day (Thurs., May 21, 2020)

The Ascension of Jesus took place in the presence of his apostles 40 days after the Resurrection. It is traditionally thought to have occurred on Mount Olivet in Bethany.

Eid al-Fitr (Sun., May 24, 2020)*

Literally the "Festival of Breaking the Fast," Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations. At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.


Memorial Day (Mon., May 25, 2020)

Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 and is observed on the last Monday in May. It originated in 1868, when Union General John A. Logan designated a day in which the graves of Civil War soldiers would be decorated. Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday was changed to Memorial Day within 20 years, becoming a holiday dedicated to the memory of all war dead.

Memorial Day

Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) (Fri., May 29, 2020)*

This festival, sometimes called the Feast of Weeks, or of Harvest, or of the First Fruits, falls 50 days after Passover and originally celebrated the end of the seven-week grain-harvesting season. In later tradition, it also celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Pentecost (Whitsunday) (Sun. May 31, 2020)

This day commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles 50 days after the Resurrection. "Whitsunday" is believed to have come from "white Sunday," when, among the English, white robes were worn by those baptized on the day.

*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


Flag Day (Sun., June 14, 2020)

This day commemorates the adoption by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, of the Stars and Stripes as the U.S. flag. Although it is a legal holiday only in Pennsylvania, President Truman, on Aug. 3, 1949, signed a bill requesting the president to call for its observance each year by proclamation.

Juneteenth (Fri., June 19, 2020)

This day commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, the news of which last reached Texas on June 19, 1865. It has been celebrated in black communities for a long time, and has recently garnered more national attention as a holiday. 

Father's Day (Sun., June 21, 2020)

Observed the third Sunday in June. The exact origin of the holiday is not clear, but it was first celebrated June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Wash. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation making Father's Day official.

Fathers Day
  • Timeline of Father's Day

*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


Independence Day (Sat., July 4, 2020)

The day of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, celebrated in all states and territories. The observance began the next year in Philadelphia.

Independence Day July Fourth

Eid al-Adha (Fri., July 31, 2020)*

Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates Abraham's willingness to obey God by sacrificing his son. Lasting for three days, it concludes the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims worldwide sacrifice a lamb or other animal and distribute the meat to relatives or the needy.

*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


Muharram (Fri., Aug. 21, 2020)*

The month of Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic liturgical year, and is celebrated in a relatively quiet manner.

*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


Labor Day (Mon., September 7, 2020)

A federal holiday observed the first Monday in September. Labor Day was first celebrated in New York in 1882 under the sponsorship of the Central Labor Union, following the suggestion of Peter J. McGuire, of the Knights of Labor, that the day be set aside in honor of labor.

Labor Day

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) (Sat., September 19, 2020)*

This day marks the beginning of the Jewish year 5778 and opens the Ten Days of Penitence, which close with Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) (Mon., September 28, 2020)*

This day marks the end of the Ten Days of Penitence that began with Rosh Hashanah. It is described in Leviticus as a "Sabbath of rest," and synagogue services begin the preceding sundown, resume the following morning, and continue to sundown.

Yom Kippur


Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) (Sat., October 3, 2020)*

This festival, also known as the Feast of the Ingathering, is both a harvest festival and a commemoration of the forty years of wandering after the Jews were freed from Egypt. The name refers to the small huts Jews live in during the festival, symbolic of the shelters used during their wandering. Some say that they also represent the huts used by workers during the annual fruit harvest.

Shemini Atzeret (Assembly of the Eighth Day) (Sat., October 10, 2020)*

This joyous holiday, encompassing Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), falls immediately after the seven days of Sukkot. It marks the end of the year's weekly readings of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) in the synagogue, and the beginning of the new cycle of reading.

Columbus Day (Mon., October 12, 2020)

A federal holiday observed the second Monday in October, it commemorates Christopher Columbus's landing in the New World in 1492. Quite likely the first celebration of Columbus Day was that organized in 1792 by the Society of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, widely known as Tammany Hall.

Christopher Columbus

Mawlid al-Nabi (Thurs., October 29, 2020)*

This holiday celebrates the birthday of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is fixed as the 12th day of the month of Rabi I in the Islamic calendar.

Halloween (Sat., October 31, 2020)

Eve of All Saints' Day, formerly called All Hallows and Hallowmass. Halloween is traditionally associated in some countries with customs such as bonfires, masquerading, and the telling of ghost stories. These are old Celtic practices that mark the beginning of winter.

  • Halloween Traditions
  • Halloween History

*All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date given.


All Saints' Day (Sun., November 1, 2020)

A Roman Catholic and Anglican holiday celebrating all saints, known and unknown.

Election Day (Tues., November 3, 2020)

Since 1845, by act of Congress, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is the date for choosing presidential electors. State elections are also generally held on this day. The date is a legal holiday in certain states.

Presidential Trivia

Veterans Day (Wed., November 11, 2020)

Armistice Day, a federal holiday, was established in 1926 to commemorate the signing in 1918 of the armistice ending World War I. On June 1, 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all men and women who have served America in its armed forces.

Veterans Day

Diwali (Sat., November 14, 2020)

Diwali, the Hindu "festival of lights," is the best known of Hindu festivals. Diwali generally lasts for five days, beginning on the 14th day of the dark half of the Hindu calendar month of Asvina. It is celebrated throughout India and its diaspora.

Diwali: Festival of Lights

Thanksgiving (Thurs., November 26, 2020)

A federal holiday observed the fourth Thursday in November by act of Congress (1941), it was the first such national proclamation issued by President Lincoln in 1863, on the urging of Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book. Most Americans believe that the holiday dates back to the day of thanks ordered by Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony in New England in 1621, but scholars point out that days of thanks stem from ancient times.

  • Thanksgiving History

First Sunday of Advent (Sun., November 29, 2020)

Advent is the season in which the faithful must prepare themselves for the coming, or advent, of the Savior on Christmas. The four Sundays before Christmas are marked by special church services.


Hanukkah (Festival of Lights) (Fri., December 11, 2020)*

This festival was instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. to celebrate the purification of the Temple of Jerusalem. It had been desecrated three years earlier by Antiochus Epiphanes, who set up a pagan altar and offered sacrifices to Zeus Olympius. In Jewish homes, a lamp or candle is lighted on each night of the eight-day festival.


Christmas (Feast of the Nativity) (Fri., December 25, 2020)

The most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year, Christmas is observed as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. Christmas customs are centuries old. The mistletoe, for example, comes from the Druids, who, in hanging the mistletoe, hoped for peace and good fortune. Comparatively recent is the Christmas tree, first set up in Germany in the 17th century. Colonial Manhattan Islanders introduced the name Santa Claus, a corruption of the Dutch name St. Nicholas, who lived in fourth-century Asia Minor.

Christmas Traditions

Kwanzaa (Sat., December 26, 2020)

This secular seven-day holiday was created by Black Studies professor Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 in the U.S., to reaffirm African values and serve as a communal celebration among African peoples in the diaspora. Modeled on first-fruits celebrations, it reflects seven principles, the Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.


New Year's Eve, Thurs., December 31 2020 (See New Year's Day above.)

Other U.S. Holidays

  • State Holidays
    A list of the official holidays of every U.S. state-plus Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands-on which state employees have the day off.
  • Oddball State Holidays
    Five state holidays you may never have hear of

Selected World Holidays

  • Selected National Holidays Around the World
  • Hispanic National Holidays
    Independence Day in Spanish-speaking countries in South America and the Caribbean
  • Bloomsday
    June 16: the annual celebration of James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, in Dublin and elsewhere around the world
  • Bastille Day
    July 14: French independence day
  • Day of the Dead
    Nov. 1 and 2: The Mexican holiday of Dí­a de los Muertosis a mixture of Native American traditions and a set of Catholic holidays
  • Guy Fawkes Day
    Nov. 5: The anniversary of the famous Gunpowder Plot
  • Boxing Day
    Dec. 26: the traditional English holiday that extends Christmas giving

Calendars and Other Curiosities

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