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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices

Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress

The United States has established the following 11 permanent federal holidays established by law, listed in the chronological order in which they were created: New Year’s Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, and Inauguration Day. Although frequently called public or national holidays, these celebrations are only legally applicable to federal employees and the District of Columbia, as the states individually decide their own legal holidays.

The first five congressionally designated federal holidays were created in 1870, when Congress granted paid time off to federal workers in the District of Columbia for New Year’s Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. In 1885, Congress extended holiday coverage for some holidays to all federal employees. Although Thanksgiving Day was included in the first holiday bill of 1870, it was not until 1941 that Congress specifically designated the fourth Thursday of November as the official date.

Since 1888, Congress has added six federal holidays, creating Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) in 1888, Labor Day in 1894, Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) in 1938, Inauguration Day in 1957 (quadrennially and only celebrated in the District of Columbia), Columbus Day in 1968, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday in 1983. In 1954, Armistice Day was broadened to honor Americans who fought in World War II and the Korean conflict, and the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day.

In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was enacted to “provide for uniform annual observances” of Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. Additionally, the Monday Holiday Law established Columbus Day to be celebrated on the second Monday in October. In 1975, Veterans Day celebrations were returned to November 11 by Congress.

Date of Report: November 16, 2012
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R41990
Price: $29.95

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