Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application
CRS Report for Congress
Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application
Updated February 8, 1999
Stephen W. Stathis
Specialist in American National Government
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Congress has statutorily established 11 permanent federal holidays, which are legally
applicable only to federal employees and the District of Columbia. Neither Congress nor
the President has asserted the authority to declare a “national holiday” which would be
binding on the 50 states. This report discusses the history of each federal holiday and
explains its rationale where a public record exists.
Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application
By law, Congress has established 11 permanent federal holidays. Although
frequently called “national holidays,” these patriotic celebrations are only applicable
to federal employees and the District of Columbia, the states individually decide their
own legal holidays.
Congress, in several instances, created federal holidays after a sizable number
of states had taken such action. In others, Congress took the lead. Each action
emphasizes particular aspects of the American heritage that molded the United States
as a people and a nation.
The first five congressionally designated federal holidays were New Year’s
Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and
Christmas Day. Approved in the 1870s, they were applicable only to federal
employees in the District of Columbia. In 1885, Congress began to extend holiday
coverage to federal employees outside Washington.
Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) and Labor Day became federal holidays
in 1888 and 1894, respectively. The first allowed Civil War veterans in federal
employ to pay their respects to those who gave their lives in the conflict, without
losing a day’s pay. The second was designed to honor American labor and foster the
feeling of brotherhood among the different crafts.
Congress created the Armistice Day holiday in 1938 to mark the close of World
War I hostilities. In 1954, the scope of this holiday 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.
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. A quarter of a century later, Congress made
Inauguration Day a permanent holiday in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area,
eliminating the necessity of acting upon this matter for each inauguration.
The Monday Holiday Law of 1968 shifted Washington’s Birthday, Memorial
Day, and Veterans Day from their traditional dates to Mondays, and established an
additional holiday in honor of Christopher Columbus. Observing these holidays on
Mondays, it was felt, would substantially benefit the nation’s spiritual and economic
life. By commemorating Christopher Columbus’s remarkable voyage, the nation
honored the courage and determination of generation after generation of immigrants
seeking freedom and opportunity in America.
Creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in 1983 culminated a 15-year
movement to establish a celebration commemorating Dr. King’s contributions to the
civil rights movement in the United States.
New Year’s Day, Independence Day,
Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day........................1
Decoration Day/Memorial Day.....................................3
Armistice Day/Veterans Day.......................................4
Monday Holiday Law............................................7
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr...................................9
List of Tables
Table 1. Laws Creating, Reauthorizing, or Expanding Federal Holidays.....11
Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application
Since 1870, more than 1,100 different proposals have been introduced in
Congress to establish permanent federal holidays. Only 11, however, have thus far
been approved. Although these patriotic celebrations are frequently referred to as
“national holidays,” legally they are only applicable to federal employees and the
District of Columbia. Neither Congress nor the President has asserted the authority
to declare a “national holiday” that would be binding on the 50 states. Each state
individually decides what its legal holidays will be. Creating a holiday for federal
employees does, however, affect each state in a variety of ways, including the
delivery of mail, bank transactions, and business conducted with federal agencies.
Congress, in several instances, declared federal holidays after being prompted
by earlier action in a sizable number of states. In other instances, Congress took the
lead. Almost without exception, approval of the 11 current federal holidays
emanated from earlier unsuccessful efforts. Each was designed to emphasize
particular aspects of the American heritage that molded the United States as a people
and a nation.
This report discusses the history of each federal holiday and explains its
rationale where a public record exists.
When Congress enacted the first federal holiday law in 1870, there were
approximately 5,300 federal employees working in Washington, D.C., and some1
50,600 in other locations across the country. The distinction between federal
employees working in the District of Columbia and those laboring elsewhere proved
important because the initial holiday act was only applicable to the federal workforce
in the nation’s capital. Federal employees in other parts of the country apparently did2
not begin to receive holiday benefits until 1885.
New Year’s Day, Independence Day,
Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day
The act of June 28, 1870, which was apparently prompted by a memorial drafted
by local “bankers and business men,” provided that New Year’s Day, Independence
Day, Christmas Day, and “any day appointed or recommended by the President of the
United States as a day of public fasting or thanksgiving [were] to be holidays within
“Finance,” remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 2, March 7, 1874, p. 2053.1
the District.” This legislation was drafted “to correspond with similar laws of States
around the District,” and “in every State of the Union.”34
When Congress, in January 1879, added George Washington’s Birthday to the
list of holidays to be observed in the District of Columbia, the principal intent of that
resolution was to make February 22 “a bank holiday.”5
Although there is no indication in the authorizing statutes of 1870 and 1879 (or
in the accompanying floor debates) that any federal employees were to be paid for
such holidays, an analysis of holiday legislation subsequently signed by President
Rutherford B. Hayes in April 1880 seems to support such a conclusion. This
legislation was prompted by a grievance filed by a group of employees who had been
denied holiday pay for the previous New Year’s Day while other federal workers had
been paid for the day. The House committee which favorably reported the bill
stressed that while there were no existing laws requiring such payment, this group of
employees, “in the committee’s opinion, should be placed upon an equality in this
regard” with those of other government departments. The committee went on to
point out that, on the “question of legal holidays,” the Revised Statutes of the United
States were silent, but those relating to the District of Columbia were very precise on
the issue. The implication was that the other federal employees in the District had
already been paid for the holiday.6
Such reasoning is substantiated by an opinion issued by Acting Attorney
General James C. McReynolds in August 1903. McReynolds indicated that, for
“many years” prior to 1870, it was “customary to close the Executive Departments
of the Government at Washington” on five holidays—New Year’s Day, George
Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas
Day—that had been “declared to be such by District laws.”7
Rep. Burton C. Cook, “Holidays in the District,” remarks in the House, Congressional3
Globe, vol. 42, June 17, 1870, p. 4529.
Rep. Hannibal Hamlin, “Legal Holidays in the District,” remarks in the Senate,4
Congressional Globe, vol. 42, June 24, 1870, p. 4805.
Sen. Stephen W. Dorsey, “February Twenty-Second,” remarks in the Senate,5
Congressional Record, vol. 7, Feb. 12, 1878, p. 955.
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Printing, Relative to Pay for Employees of the6thnd
Government Printing Office for Legal Holidays, H.Rept. 585, 46 Cong., 2 sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1880), p. 2. In part, the statute provided that employees of the
Government Printing Office (GPO) would receive the same holidays as other government
workers. 21 Stat. 304. GPO employees, Representative Otho R. Singleton told his House
colleagues, had “always enjoyed fewer holidays than the laborers in any other Government
establishment.” Rep. Otho R. Singleton, “Printing Office Employees,” remarks in the House,
Congressional Record, vol. 10, April 6, 1880, pp. 2170-2171.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Official Opinions of the Attorney General of the United7
States (Washington: GPO, 1906), vol. 25, p. 43.
This practice, McReynolds reasoned, “must have been known to the Congress,
and it must have been that those days were declared public holidays only by laws
applicable to the District.” As a consequence, McReynolds concluded that Congress
intended with the 1870 and 1879 statute “to designate all days made holidays by any
law in effect within the District of Columbia” to be such for employees of the federal
government as well. This was done, even though Congress, as late as the turn of the8
century, had yet to enact legislation “absolutely requiring that the Executive
Departments of the Government to be closed and the clerks and other employees9
therein to be released from work on such days.”
In 1885, Congress approved additional legislation making the five holidays thus
far approved also applicable to per diem employees of the government “on duty at10
Washington, or elsewhere in the United States.” This act, apparently for the first
time, extended at least limited holiday benefits to federal employees beyond the
shores of the Potomac River.
Enactment of the Monday Holiday Law in 1968 shifted the commemoration11
of Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February.
Contrary to popular belief, neither the Monday Holiday Law, nor any subsequent
action by Congress or the President, mandated that the name of the holiday observed
by federal employees in February be changed from Washington’s Birthday to
Decoration Day/Memorial Day
Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) was added to the list of holidays to be
observed in the District, and in turn by federal employees, in 1888. The joint12
resolution was probably adopted primarily because a sizable number of federal
employees were members of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of
Union Civil War veterans who desired to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies
honoring those who had died in the conflict. Their absence from work meant the loss
of a day’s wages. It was felt they should be “allowed this day as a holiday with pay,
so that they might not suffer loss of wages by reason of joining in paying their
Ibid., pp. 43-44.8
Ibid., p. 45.9
the Senate, Congressional Record, vol. 15, March 25, 1884, p. 2240; and “Holidays for
Government Employees,” remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 16, Dec. 20,
Ismar Baruch, “Federal Holiday Pay Policies,” Personnel Administration, vol. 7, May 1945,
p. 15. An extensive review of the debate accompanying the earlier three enactments
discussed heretofore, however, does not support such a contention.
P.L. 90-363, 82 Stat.250.11
respects to the memory of those who died in the service of their country.” By 1890,13
Memorial Day had become a legal holiday in all of the northern states.14
With the passage of the Monday Holiday Law in 1968, the observance of15
Memorial Day was permanently changed from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
An entirely different rationale prompted the House Committee on Labor to
report favorably legislation for Labor Day to become a federal holiday in 1894. “The
use of national holidays,” the committee reasoned, “is to emphasize some great event
or principle in the minds of the people by giving them a day of rest and recreation,
a day of enjoyment, in commemoration of it.” By honoring labor with a holiday, the
committee suggested, the nation will assure “that the nobility of labor be maintained.
So long as the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as a useful
place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen.”16
With time, the committee felt, the celebration of Labor Day as a national holiday
on the first Monday in September would “naturally lead to an honorable emulation
among the different crafts beneficial to them and to the whole public.” It would also
“tend to increase the feeling of common brotherhood among men in all crafts and
callings, and at the same time kindle an honorable desire in each craft to surpass the
rest.” A reasonable amount of rest and recreation makes a workman “more useful as
a craftsman.” Providing further support for its position, the committee pointed out17
that 23 states had already recognized Labor Day as a legal holiday.
Armistice Day/Veterans Day
When Armistice Day was declared a federal holiday by Congress in 1938, the
date November 11 was chosen to commemorate the close of World War I. During
the House debate preceding passage of this legislation, it was suggested that
Armistice Day would “not be devoted to the exaltation of glories achieved in war but,
rather, to an emphasis upon those blessings which are associated with the peacetime
Rep. Henry B. Lovering, “Pay for Decoration Day,” remarks in the House, Congressional13
Record, vol. 17, July 15, 1886, p. 6999. Interestingly, the bill being debated in this instance
actually became law, but was only applicable to per diem laborers in the government. 24
Jane M. Hatch, The American Book of Days, third edition (New York: The H.W, Wilson14
Company, 1978), p. 503.
P.L. 90-363, 82 Stat. 250-251.15
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Labor, Labor Day a Legal Holiday, report to16rdnd
accompany H.R. 28, 53 Cong., 2 sess., H.Rept. 902 (Washington: GPO, 1894), p. 1.
Ibid. See also 28 Stat. 96. 17
activities of mankind.” Armistice Day would mark not only the “end of a great war,”
but also the ushering “in of a new era of peace.”18
The “holiday was dedicated to the cause of world peace,” and as such was to be
“regarded and observed throughout the land as a day to honor the veterans of the First
World War who fought, and especially those who died, for that cause.” 19
Making Armistice Day a “national peace holiday” was a proposal which had the20
“enthusiastic approval” of all of the societies representing World War I veterans.
In 1938, Armistice Day was already a state holiday in 44 states, and the other four
states had made it a holiday by gubernatorial action. Although it was recognized that
Congress did not have the authority “to fix a national holiday within the different21
States,” enactment of this bill, it was felt, would bring Congress “into harmony with
sentiment in the United States.”22
By 1954, however, the United States had been involved in two other military
engagements, World War II and the Korean conflict. Instead of creating additional
federal holidays to commemorate the ending of these hostilities, Congress felt it
would be better to commemorate the sacrifices of American veterans all on one day.
On June 1, 1954, the name of Armistice Day was officially changed to Veterans23
Day. This legislation did not establish a new holiday. Rather, it broadened the
“significance of an existing holiday in order that a grateful nation, on a day dedicated
to the cause of world peace, may pay homage to all of its veterans.”24
Fourteen years later, Congress designated Veterans Day to be one of five
holidays that would henceforth be celebrated on a Monday and changed the date of
the holiday from November 11 to the fourth Monday in October. Congress returned25
Veterans Day to its original November 11 date in 1975, after it became apparent that
“veterans’ organizations opposed the change, and 46 states either never changed the
original observation date or returned the official observance to November 11.” 26
Rep. Bertrand W. Gearhart, “Armistice Day,” remarks in the House, Congressional18
Record, vol. 83, May 2, 1938, p. 6055.
U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Changing Armistice Day to Veterans19rdnd
Day, report to accompany H.R. 7786, 83 Cong., 2 sess., H.Rept. 1333 (Washington: GPO,
Gearhart, “Armistice Day,” p. 6055.20
Sen. Alben Barkley, “Armistice Day,” remarks in the Senate, Congressional Record, vol.21
Sen. William Gibbs McAdoo, “Armistice Day,” remarks in the Senate, Congressional22
Record, vol. 83, May 5, 1938, p. 6307.
P.L. 83-380, 68 Stat. 168.23
Changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day, H.Rept. 1333, p.1.24
P.L. 90-363, 82 Stat. 250.25
“Veterans Day,” Congressional Quarterly Report, vol. 33, Sept. 13, 1975, p. 1957. See26
also P.L. 94-97, 89 Stat. 479.
The evolution of Thanksgiving Day as a federal holiday took quite a different
course. President George Washington issued the first proclamation calling for “a day
of public thanksgiving and prayer” on Thursday, November 26, 1789. Six years later,
Washington called for a second day of thanksgiving on Thursday, February 19, 1795.
Not until 1863, however, did the nation begin to observe the occasion annually. That
year, President Abraham Lincoln issued a thanksgiving proclamation requesting
“citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those
who are sojourned in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of
November ... as a day of Thanksgiving.” During the next three quarters of a century,
each President, by proclamation, established the exact date for the celebration each
year. Beginning in 1870, Thanksgiving became a paid holiday for at least a portion27
of the federal work force, after Congress gave the President power to designate a day
of thanksgiving, which was to be a holiday within the District of Columbia.28
The tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November,
begun by President Lincoln in 1863, was faithfully followed, each year but two, until
1939. That year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the third Thursday in
November as Thanksgiving Day. By moving Thanksgiving up a week, Roosevelt29
"hoped to aid retail business by producing a longer Christmas shopping season.”30
Although Roosevelt’s decision was greeted enthusiastically by the business
community, others, including a sizable portion of the public, as well as a large
number of state officials, protested against changing the longstanding American
tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. Despite
this criticism, Roosevelt repeated his action in 1940. By May 1941, however, the
administration concluded that the experiment of advancing the observance date had
not worked. 31
A law signed by President Roosevelt on December 26, 1941, settled the32
dispute and permanently established Thanksgiving Day as a federal holiday to be
Robert J. Myers, Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays, third edition27
(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1972), pp. 280-281.
The two exceptions occurred in 1865 and 1869 respectively. In 1865, President Andrew29
Johnson designated the first Thursday in December as Thanksgiving Day, and President
Ulysses S. Grant selected the third Thursday in November for the observance in 1869. Jane
M. Hatch, The American Book of Days (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1978), p. 1056.
G. Wallace Chessman, “Thanksgiving: Another FDR Experiment,” Prologue, vol. 22, Fall30
Ibid., pp. 278-283. The protests are also mentioned in U.S. Congress, House Committee31thst
on the Judiciary, Thanksgiving Day, report to accompany H.J.Res. 41, 77 Cong., l sess.,
H.Rept. 1186 (Washington: GPO 1941), p.1. Debate on the significance of the change is
found in Rep. Earl C. Michener, “Thanksgiving Day,” remarks in the House, Congressional
Record, vol. 87, Oct. 6, 1941, p. 7653; and Sen. John A. Danaher, “Designation of
Thanksgiving Day,” remarks in the Senate, Ibid., vol. 87, Dec. 9, 1941, p. 9551.
P.L. 77-379, 55 Stat. 862.32
observed on the fourth Thursday in November. The intent was to “stabilize the date
so that there [would] be no confusion at any time in the future without congressional
action.” President Roosevelt announced, shortly before the resolution was approved,
“that the reasons for which the change was made do not justify a continued change33
in the date.”
Inauguration Day became a permanent “legal holiday” in the Washington, D.C.,
metropolitan area a quarter of a century later. The legislation, which was signed into
law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 11, 1957, also provided that,
whenever Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, the following day would be considered34
a legal holiday. Traditionally, schools in the area (District of Columbia,
Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties in Maryland; Arlington and Fairfax
Counties in Virginia; and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, Virginia) had
been excused on Inauguration Day. For several previous observances of the event,
as well, “inaugurations arrangements [had] been made for the Federal employees to
be given a holiday in order that they [might] observe the historic and important
activities associated with the inauguration.” With the passage of this statute, the
necessity of acting upon this matter for each inauguration was eliminated.35
Monday Holiday Law
Congress approved the Monday Holiday Law in June 1968 to “provide for
uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and36
established a legal public holiday in honor of Christopher Columbus.” Prior to the
passage of this legislation, Washington’s Birthday was observed on February 22,
Memorial Day on May 30, and Veterans Day on November 11. The act changed the
dates of these holidays to the third Monday in February, last Monday in May, and the
fourth Monday in October. The newly created Columbus Day was also designated
as a Monday holiday, to be celebrated on the second Monday in October.
By calling for the observance of these four holidays on a Monday, Congress felt
there would be “substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the
Nation.” In addition, this legislation was perceived to:37
Thanksgiving Day, H.Rept. 1186, p. 2.33
P.L. 85-1, 71 Stat. 3.34
Rep. Edward H. Rees, “Making Inauguration Day a Legal Holiday in the Metropolitan35
Area of the District of Columbia,” remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 103,
Jan. 7, 1957, p. 303. Inauguration Day had been a holiday for employees of the Government
Printing Office since 1895. 28 Stat. 607.
P.L. 90-363, 82 Stat. 250-251.36
U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Monday Holidays, report to37
!afford increased opportunities for families to be together, especially those
families of which various members were separated by great distances;
!enable Americans to enjoy a wider range of recreational activities, since they
would be afforded more time for travel;
!provide increased opportunities for pilgrimages to the historic sites connected
with our holidays, thereby increasing participation in commemoration of
!afford greater opportunity for leisure at home so that Americans would be able
to enjoy fuller participation in hobbies as well as educational and cultural
!stimulate greater industrial and commercial production by reducing employee
absenteeism and enabling workweeks to be free from interruptions in the form38
of midweek holidays.
It was clear, the House Judiciary Committee argued in its April 1968 report on
the Monday Holiday bill, that the proposal was “responsive to the needs and desires
of a great majority” of Americans. Support for the proposal was expressed by such
major business groups as the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, National
Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Travel Organizations, and
National Retail Federation. There was also substantial support from the labor
community, expressed by such organizations as the American Federation of
Government Employees, AFL-CIO Government Employees Council, International
Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Association of Letter Carriers.
In addition, the Department of Labor, the Bureau of the Budget, the Department
of Commerce, and the U.S. Civil Service Commission all endorsed the idea. Public
opinion polls conducted in connection with the proposal indicated that “almost 93
percent of the persons polled supported the concept of uniform Monday holiday39
legislation, while a little more than 7 percent were opposed.”
Neither this act, nor any subsequent action by Congress or the President,
mandated that the name of the holiday observed by federal employees in February be
changed from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day.
(...continued)37 th nd
accompany H.R. 15951, 90 Cong., 2 sess., S.Rept.1293 (Washington: GPO, 1968), p. 1.
Ibid., pp. 1-2; and U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Monday Holidays,38thnd
report together with minority views to accompany H.R. 15951, 90 Cong., 2 sess.,
H.Rept.1280 (Washington: GPO, 1968), p. 2.
Monday Holidays, H.Rept. 1280, p. 2.39
Several reasons were offered for making Columbus Day a legal public holiday
in 1968. Among the most prominent of these was the fact that observance was
already an established holiday under the laws of 38 of the 50 states. Seven other
states marked the day by a gubernatorial proclamation.
Christopher Columbus was seen by Congress as battling great obstacles with
remarkable determination. By commemorating his voyage to the New World, the
nation would be honoring the courage and determination which enabled generation
after generation of immigrants from many nations to find freedom and opportunity
in America. Such a holiday would also provide “an annual reaffirmation by the
American people of their faith in the future, a declaration of willingness to face with40
confidence the imponderables of unknown tomorrows.”
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Within a decade-and-a-half, federal workers would have another holiday, when
President Ronald Reagan in November 1983 signed legislation ending a 15-year
struggle over a national holiday honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Afterwards, at the White House Rose Garden ceremony, Reagan saluted the slain
civil rights leader as a man who “stirred our nation to the very depths of its soul.”41
Proposals to honor Dr. King’s memory by designating his January 15 birthday
as a federal holiday were first introduced following his 1968 assassination, and in
each subsequent Congress through the 98th. The House came close to approving one
of these bills in November 1979, when, under suspension of the rules, it voted 252-
four votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority required for passage.
Finally on August 2, 1983, the House approved legislation making the third
Monday in January a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, starting in 1986.43
Monday Holidays, S.Rept. 1293, p. 3.40
U.S. President (Reagan), “Remarks on Signing the Bill Making Birthday of Martin Luther41
King, Jr., a National Holiday,” Public Papers of the Presidents, 1983, Book II (Washington:
GPO, 1985), p. 1529. See also P.L. 98-144, 97 Stat. 917.
“Martin Luther King Birthday,” remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 125,42
Nov. 13, 1979, pp. 32136-32144, 32175-32176. See also Brigette Rouson, “House Fails to
Pass Bill to Make King’s Birthday a New National Holiday,” Congressional Quarterly, vol.
“Designation of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., as a Legal Public Holiday,”43
remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 129, Aug. 2, 1983, pp. 22208-22243; and
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, Designation of the
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., as a Legal Public Holiday, report together withthst
minority views to accompany H.R. 3345, 98 Cong., l sess., H.Rept. 98-314 (Washington:
Following a stormy debate on the other side of the Capitol, the Senate, by a 78 to 22
vote, passed the bill on October 19. Two weeks later, it became law with President44
Supporters of the bill argued that a federal holiday would provide genuine and
deserved recognition to Dr. King and the civil rights movement that he led.
Opponents maintained that the nation did not need a tenth federal holiday, and cited
its expense to the taxpayers—an estimated $220 to $240 million a year in lost45
productivity in the federal workforce and more than $4 billion in the private sector.
Table 1 provides the enactment date and statutory citation, and the coverage of
each law that created, reauthorized, or expanded federal holidays. Several days, as
noted, have been reauthorized and expanded over the years.
GPO, 1983); and U.S. Congress, House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service,
Subcommittee on Census and Statistics, Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Bill, hearings onthst
H.R. 800, 98 Cong., l sess., June 7, 1983 (Washington: GPO, 1983).
“Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday,” remarks in the Senate, Congressional Record, vol.44
129, Oct. 19, 1983, pp. 28341-28381. See also Robert Rothman, “Congress Clears King
Holiday After Heated Senate Debate; Reagan Will Sign the Measure,” Congressional
Quarterly, vol. 41, Oct. 22, 1983, pp. 2175-2179.
Susan Smith, “House Acts to Honor King With January Federal Holiday,” Congressional45
Quarterly, vol. 41, Aug. 6, 1983, p. 1619; “A National Holiday for Martin Luther King? Pro
and Con,” U.S. News & World Report, vol. 95, Aug. 29, 1983, p. 49; and “Cost of King
Holiday Estimated,” Washington Post, Oct. 21, 1983, p. Bl.
Table 1. Laws Creating, Reauthorizing,
or Expanding Federal Holidays
Date Holiday Coverage
June 28, 1870New Year’s DayHoliday only within
(16 Stat. 168)Independence DayDistrict of Columbia
Day of Thanksgiving
January 31, 1879Washington’s BirthdayHoliday only within
(20 Stat. 277)District of Columbia
April 16, 1880New Year’s DayHoliday for employees
(21 Stat. 304)Washington’s Birthdayof GPO
January 6, 1885New Year’s DayHoliday for per diem
(23 Stat. 516)Washington’s Birthdayemployees of the federal
Day of Thanksgiving
February 23, 1888Decoration DayIbid.
(25 Stat. 516)(now Memorial Day)
June 28, 1894Labor DayIbid.
(28 Stat. 96)
January 12, 1895Inauguration Day*Holiday for GPO
(28 Stat. 607)employees
July 28, 1916New Year’s DayPostal employees given
(P.L. 64-169)Washington’s Birthdaycompensatory time for
(39 Stat. 416)Memorial Dayworking these holidays
Day of Thanksgiving
February 28, 1919Ibid.Holiday for postal
(40 Stat. 1193)
May 13, 1938Armistice DayHoliday for all federal
(P.L. 75-510)(November 11)employees
(52 Stat. 351)
December 26, 1941Thanksgiving DayHoliday for all federal
(55 Stat. 862)
June 1, 1954Veterans DayHoliday for all federal
(P.L. 83-380)(Armistice Day renamed)employees
(68 Stat. 168)
Date Holiday Coverage
January 11, 1957Inauguration DayHoliday for all federal
(P.L. 85-1)employees in the
(71 Stat. 3)metropolitan area of the
District of Columbia
September 22, 1959Law relating to pay and leave
(P.L. 86-362)of absences of Federal civilian
(73 Stat. 643-644)officers and employees on
September 8, 1966Ibid.
(80 Stat. 515-516)
June 28, 1968New Year’s DayHoliday for all federal
(P.L. 90-363)Washington’s Birthdayemployees
(82 Stat. 250-251) (third Monday in Feb.)
(last Monday in May)
(first Monday in Sept.)
(second Monday in Oct.)
(fourth Monday in Oct.)
September 18, 1975Veterans DayHoliday for all federal
(P.L. 94-97) (Redesignated Nov. 11)employees
(94 Stat. 479)
November 2, 1983Birthday of Martin LutherHoliday for all federal
(P.L. 98-144)King, Jr.employees
(97 Stat. 917) (3rd Monday in Jan.)
* Added to the list of enumerated legal public holidays.