Major Holidays and Festivals in America

Major Holidays and Festivals in America

Ten federal holidays are specified by the government in the U.S. However, each state can choose their own variation of observable holidays. It is possible for some holidays to be observed in one state and not observed in others. Bank, schools, post offices, etc., are closed on legal holidays. Many businesses are closed, as well. In addition, your employer may have other holidays the company observes.

Unlike other countries, many U.S. holidays are celebrated on days that are more convenient and are combined with weekends, rather than being observed in the middle of the week. Since most people don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays, many holidays are observed on Mondays. Of course, not all holidays follow that pattern.  

Many people travel during the holidays. Therefore, if you have any travel plans during holidays, make sure to make arrangements (air tickets, reservations, etc.) as much in advance as possible. This will save you a lot of money as the demand and cost gets higher closer to holidays.

New Year’s Day

January 1. It is a federal holiday.

People generally have New Year’s parties and social gatherings. Many people may come home very late from the previous day’s New Year’s Eve parties. It is generally dangerous to drive during the early hours of New Year’s Day, as many people may be driving while intoxicated.

Martin Luther King Day

Observed as the third Monday in January, it is a federal holiday.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was actually born on January 15. He was a prominent civil rights leader (considered the Gandhi of the U.S.).

Valentine’s Day

February 14.

Celebrated in memory of St. Valentine. This holiday is highly commercialized. Lovers express their feelings by exchanging gifts, flowers, and greeting cards. In principle, a Valentine can be for anyone you care about, not just a lover or boyfriend/girlfriend. In practice, though, it is limited to lovers and spouses.

President’s Day

The third Monday in February. It is a federal holiday.

Celebrated to honor the United States presidents. 
George Washington’s birthday: February 22.
Abraham Lincoln’s birthday: February 12.

Many stores have major sales on this day.

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17.

This holiday is primarily celebrated by people with Irish backgrounds. Many people wear green clothes and other items on this day.

April Fool’s Day

April 1. 

This is not really a holiday. People play lighthearted tricks on each other during this day. However, be careful not to play tricks that may be harmful or cause injuries to anyone. It is supposed to be innocent fun.

Good Friday

This is not really a holiday, but it always falls on a Friday.

It commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus.


Celebrated on the Sunday immediately following Good Friday. It is celebrated to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe it occurred on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion.

People paint Easter eggs with bright colors. Many places organize egg hunts for kids. Egg hunts essentially involve hunting for hidden plastic eggs that contain candy.


This is a Jewish holiday. Passover is celebrated on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish year called Nisan. It celebrates the survival of the Jews in Egypt. Jews celebrate it with a special ritual dinner called “Seder”.

Mother’s Day

Second Sunday in May.

Children send their mothers gifts, greeting cards, take them to dinner, or spend time with them. 

In the U.S., children typically move away from their parents when they grow older. There is no concept of a joint family. Therefore, Mother’s Day is celebrated to appreciate mothers for all that they have done.

Memorial Day

Last Monday in May. It is a federal holiday.

It is the first major holiday in the year after New Year’s Day. In many northern states, swimming pools open on Memorial Day. (Before that, it is too cold to swim.) 

Memorial Day commemorates Americans who fought for the country and died in wars. 

The famous “Indianapolis 500” auto race is held on Memorial Day in Indianapolis, IN. 

Many people travel on this long holiday weekend.

Father’s Day

Third Sunday in June.

Children send their fathers gifts, greeting cards, take them to dinner, or spend time with them. 

In the U.S., children typically move away from their parents when they grow older. There is no concept of joint family. Therefore, Father’s Day is celebrated to appreciate fathers.

Independence Day

July 4. It is a federal holiday.

The USA declared its independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. It is a very important day in the history of the U.S. 

There are grand fireworks displays in many places this night. Most fireworks start around 9:00 P.M. and last for 15-30 minutes. These fireworks are very beautiful and colorful to watch.

Several other activities take place this day, like parades, community/family picnics, parties, or softball games.

Labor Day

First Monday in September. It is a federal holiday.

In many northern states, swimming pools are closed on Labor Day. 

Labor Day commemorates the American working tradition. 

Many people travel on this long weekend. It is generally the last holiday before it gets cold in many parts of the country.

Many stores have large sales during this weekend.

Columbus Day

Second Monday in October. It is a federal holiday.

It celebrates the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1492. The Americas consist of the North and South American continents.


October 31. It is not a holiday, but rather a festival.

After it gets dark, children walk through neighborhoods asking for candy. Children are often dressed in scary costumes, such as a witch or a ghost, or costumes like fairies, cartoon characters, or whatever the latest craze is.

On this night, children shout “trick-or-treat”. “Trick-or-treat” means that if candy is not given to them, the adult will be subject to a trick or prank. However, saying this is more of a formality. In practice, no one refuses to give candy and children don’t generally play tricks.  

You will also see pumpkins outside people’s houses. Children carve faces into hollowed-out pumpkins and place lit candles inside, so the outline of the face glows in the dark. These carved pumpkins are called jack-o-lanterns. 

Veterans Day

November 11. It is a federal holiday.

It honors the veterans who fought for America in various wars.

Thanksgiving Day

Fourth Thursday in November. It is a federal holiday.

It is a major holiday and technically the longest paid vacation most people get. Many companies give the Friday after Thanksgiving off. If not, most employees will take a day of vacation that Friday. When you combine that with the weekend, it is four days off. Schools are generally closed during those days. 

People typically reunite with their families during this holiday. Thanksgiving dinner is a large production. Dinner primarily consists of turkey with stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. 

Thanksgiving celebration started when the Pilgrims (early settlers) in Massachusetts survived the harsh winter in 1621 with the help of Native Americans (called Indians) who helped them learn how to catch eel and grow corn. 

Most stores and businesses are closed on Thanksgiving Day. However, the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, during which the biggest sales of the year occur. It is also the official start of the Christmas shopping season.


December 25. It is a federal holiday.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Since the majority of the U.S. population is Christian, this is the biggest festival of the year. However, many non-Christians celebrate this holiday as well in the spirit of giving to others.

Most businesses are closed on Christmas, and some even close early on Christmas Eve.  

Many people purchase an evergreen tree, such as fir, pine or spruce, and decorate it with lights, ornaments, and tinsel. Some people buy artificial trees to decorate. These trees are places in an area of the house where family members place wrapped gifts underneath to surprise others on Christmas.

Many houses are decorated with Christmas lights, and you may see animal models like reindeers lit up in front yards. 

Children believe that if they set out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus will leave gifts for them under the Christmas tree. Of course, Santa Claus is an imaginary character.


December 26 – January 1.

African Americans celebrate family, community, and culture. 

Dr. Maulana Kareng, a social activist, created this festival in 1966.

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