Holidays

This summer, we’ve had the joy of welcoming Derek, a law student heading into his third year, interning with us.  This is his first blog post.  Enjoy!

This month, our nation celebrated its 242nd birthday! Of all the official federal holidays, the 4th of July is my favorite. With hot dogs, cherry pie, and fireworks what could go wrong? As I sat with my family this year, I started thinking about holidays and I realized I didn’t know a lot about them. I decided to do a little research on a few questions that popped into my mind, here were the answers.

Are there different kinds of holidays?

Not all holidays are created equal. Have you ever heard of National Pecan Pie Day? How about I Forgot Day? Cow Appreciation Day? Whether you’ve heard of them or not, they are all holidays in July. However, these holidays differ greatly from federal holidays like Independence Day. So, what are federal holidays and how are they created?

A federal holiday creates a day of paid leave for federal employees. Though there are other ways a government employee can get a paid day off (like presidential proclamation days of remembrance), only congress has the ability to designate a new national holiday. Congress is given its authority to designate holidays by Title 5 of the United States Code Section 6103. Holidays like National Pecan Pie Day are generally created by corporations or private interest groups and have no legal significance. The first national holiday laws written by Congress were passed in 1870. Initially, only four federal holidays existed: New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Since 1870, Congress has reviewed over 1,100 petitions for new holidays. To date, only 11 of those petitions have thus far become law.

Did people always get the day off?

Initially, federal holidays were only meant to be observed by the federal employees working in Washington D.C. It wasn’t until 1885 that federal holidays applied to all federal employees regardless of what state they worked. It took even longer for private companies to begin letting their employees have the day off. In the end, most private companies began the tradition of giving their employees the day off because it was difficult to conduct business with banks and the government being closed.

Why are so many holidays celebrated on Monday’s?

Prior to 1968, most federal holidays were observed on specific days of the year. George Washington’s birthday, for example, was always celebrated on February 22. However, that method of observance meant that the paid day off could happen at any given time during the week, including Saturdays and Sundays when many federal employees had days off. That all changed in June of 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The act changed the days of observance of any holiday which did not need to be celebrated on a specific day of the year. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also created Columbus Day.

What is our next federal holiday going to be?

As one can imagine, getting Congress to designate a new national holiday is a slow process. As I mentioned previously, there have been roughly 1,090 failed attempts at creating a new federal holiday law. That being said, it is by no means impossible for Congress to designate a new holiday. In recent years, several petitions have gained serious traction. There have been several resolutions introduced in the House to designate a day for Cesar E. Chavez, the civil rights leader who emphasized the importance of education and civic responsibility. In a similar vein, several attempts have been made to create a Susan B. Anthony Day. But perhaps the holiday with the best chance of becoming the 12th federal holiday is Election Day. The representatives that have introduced petitions for the designation of Election Day hope to provide citizens with more time to get out and vote on election day. The holiday would be observed the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November every even numbered year. All of these sound like great ideas, but I am crossing my fingers for National Pecan Pie day to get added to the list for serious consideration.

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