U.S. holidays: dates & significance

If you’re working or studying in the U.S., it’s a good idea to learn about holidays and special observances — particularly those that give you a break! Here’s a list of the most widely celebrated American holidays and their relevance:

Federal Holidays

The following are secular, nationally observed holidays. Many schools and places of employment close on these dates:

  • New Year’s Day (January 1) – Usually celebrated with parties the night before. On January 1, some people institute lifestyle changes known as “New Year’s Resolutions.”
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (3rd Monday in January) – Marks the birthday of the African American minster who led a nonviolent civil rights movement in the 1960s.
  • Washington’s Birthday/Presidents’ Day (3rd Monday in February) – Originally designated as the federal observance of the birth of George Washington (first president of the United States), this day honors several influential American presidents.
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May) – Americans honor the dead (particularly those killed in war) by visiting cemeteries, flying the American flag and attending special gatherings and church services.
  • Independence Day (July 4) – Marks the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence; parades, barbecues and fireworks displays take place.
  • Labor Day (1st Monday in September) – Tribute to the U.S. workforce; typically celebrated with parades and backyard parties. Labor Day is also the unofficial end of the summer season.
  • Columbus Day (2nd Monday in October) – Commemorates Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’s 1492 arrival in the New World.
  • Veterans Day (November 11) – Honors veterans of all American wars.
  • Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November) – Marked by a traditional feast of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie; has roots in 17th-century America and is a day to show gratitude and share with loved ones.

Note: Because of the nation’s large Christian population, many schools and businesses in the United States close for non-secular holidays such as Christmas (December 25) and Easter (early spring). Americans of countless faiths also observe religious holidays. Notable examples are Ramadan (observed by Muslims in autumn), Kwanzaa (an African tradition taking place in late December) and Jewish High Holy Days in September.

Unofficial Holidays

In the United States, there are endless reasons to celebrate. Though few of them will affect your normal work or school schedules, be sure to mark these special dates on your calendar:

  • Inauguration Day (January 20; every four years) – Each new presidential term begins with a confirmation ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, DC.
  • Groundhog Day (February 2) – Marks a milestone between winter and spring.
  • Valentine’s Day (February 14) – A day for expressions of romantic love.
  • St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) – Revelers of all ethnicities honor Ireland’s patron saint with food, drink, music and dancing.
  • April Fools’ Day (April 1) – Pranks and practical jokes abound on this just-for-fun holiday.
  • Earth Day (April 22) – Americans celebrate conservation and earth-friendliness.
  • Cinco de Mayo (May 5) – A celebration of Mexican heritage and pride; observed by Latin Americans and native citizens alike.
  • Mothers’ Day (second Sunday in May)
  • Fathers’ Day (third Sunday in June)
  • Halloween (October 31) – People of all ages wear costumes, eat candy and attend parties and dances.

Argonne’s Holiday Schedule is available online. (This hyperlink is accessible to employees on site or through VPN.)

(Source: Hannah Roberts, USA Education Guides)