As a British expat in America, it can take some time to get used to the public holidays and the customs expected of you as a resident in the USA. Americans tend to be quite patriotic about their holidays and like to celebrate, and it’s a good way to integrate into your new community by getting involved.
It’s also worth noting that each state can have their own public holidays too. Here is a good list of all Federal and State holidays in the USA, with the states that observe each one. Federal holidays are those holidays observed across the whole of the United States, generally in every state, so no matter where you are moving to in America, these are ones that you should be aware of.
If you are moving to the USA, here is your one-stop guide to American holidays and their associated customs, as well as the dates they fall on in 2018.
Third Monday in January
Celebrated on the third Monday in January, this public holiday marks the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr on 15th January, who promoted non-violent activism in the Civil Rights Movement. Some employers grant it as a day off and some schools are closed or hold special events, but it’s not often a given paid holiday.
Third Monday in February
This federal holiday is in honour of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, though it now often commemorates all presidents including the current one. It is a state holiday in most states, though it can be called slightly different names depending on which state you are in, and it’s not generally given as a paid day off.
Last Monday in May
This federal holiday is to remember the people who died serving their country in the armed forces. It falls on the last Monday in May, and it is widely observed, with Memorial Day parades and services to honour the fallen. It also marks the unofficial start of summer vacation season, which lasts until Labor Day (see below). It’s a public holiday and you’re unlikely to have to work.
A strange one for British expats to experience, the 4th July celebrations remember the Declaration of Independence from British rule in 1776 by the 13 original states. It is widely celebrated with parties, fireworks, parades and more. It is a national holiday that Americans get very invested in and the celebrations are a sight to observe, so enjoy your day off and get involved. If the 4th July falls on the weekend a public holiday is generally granted on the Friday or Monday, depending on whether the 4th falls on the Saturday or Sunday. Many people tend to make the most of the long weekend, which means travel options get very busy.
First Monday in September
This day falls on the first Monday in September and marks the end of the summer season and the start of a new school year. It honours the American labour movement and the contributions of workers to the United States. It is usually celebrated over the whole long weekend, called Labor Day Weekend, with picnics, trips, parties and parades as summer comes to an end.
Second Monday in October
Columbus Day is a celebration of the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. While it is a federal holiday, which falls on the second Monday in October, it is not observed by all states and the way it is celebrated can vary widely. In some states, it is a big event, with large parades and parties; in others, it is not recognised at all. Other states have alternative holidays on the same date, including Disoverer’s Day in Hawaii and Indigenous Peoples’ Day in a few other states.
This is the American holiday that coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day and honours all US veterans of the armed forces. It is observed on this day, as it’s the day of the Armistice with Germany that ended the First World War, but it honours veterans from all wars in which America was involved. Some workers and many students will have the day off. When the 11th November falls on a Saturday or Sunday either the Friday or Monday will be designated as the Federal holiday.
Fourth Thursday in November (typically between 22nd – 28th November)
You certainly won’t miss Thanksgiving in America; it’s a big family-based day of celebration. It celebrates the first meal shared between colonists and the indigenous peoples of America, and the tradition of sharing continues. You may be invited to join Thanksgiving celebrations at a colleague or friend’s home. It also marks the end of the harvest season. Traditionally, you would have a turkey roast dinner on this day, and it starts off the festive season with a bang!
Tuesday 25th December
Many communities across America celebrate Christmas and there is a big build up from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. You may as well embrace it and make the most of the festive activities, especially if you are moving to the USA with children.