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Fed Facts: What makes a federal holiday?

Throughout the year, select government offices and many financial institutions are closed to observe designated holidays. In the United States, a federal holiday is one that is recognized by Congress and is designated in Title V of the U.S. Code 6103 – Holidays, which allows Congress the authority to create holidays for federal institutions. As the year comes to a close and a few of these federal holidays start to approach, we decided to recap some of the history behind these holidays.

Federal holidays throughout history

In 1870, Congress designated the first federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. At the time, holiday benefits were only allotted to the approximately 5,300 federal employees working in Washington, D.C. Federal workers located elsewhere in the country – around 50,600 employees – did not receive holiday benefits until 1885. Since the initial four holidays were designated, there have been over 1,100 proposals to establish federal holidays. Only 11 have been approved by Congress, with the most recent being Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Observing federal holidays

On federal holidays, all non-essential federal government offices, as well as many financial institutions, are closed for business. Although these holidays are often observed throughout the whole country, they are not “national holidays.” Therefore, each state can individually decide whether or not to legally observe a federal holiday. In fact, even though many states recognize most, or all, federal holidays as state holidays, the federal government cannot enact laws requiring them to do so. Likewise, states can observe local and city holidays that are not recognized at the federal level.

Federal Reserve Bank holidays

The Federal Reserve Banks observe all federal holidays and are closed for business as outlined below. For holidays falling on Saturday, Federal Reserve Banks and Branches will be open the preceding Friday. For holidays falling on Sunday, all Federal Reserve Banks and Branches will be closed the following Monday. An expanded schedule can be found on the Board of Governors' website (Off-site).

Be sure to bookmark the Holiday Schedules page, and visit the Fed360® Dates to Remember page, to keep track of upcoming holidays.

Holiday 2019 2020
New Year's Day Jan 1 Jan 1
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan 21 Jan 20
Presidents Day Feb 18 Feb 17
Memorial Day May 27 May 25
Independence Day July 4 July 4
Labor Day Sep 2 Sep 7
Columbus Day Oct 14 Oct 12
Veterans Day Nov 11 Nov 11
Thanksgiving Day Nov 28 Nov 26
Christmas Day Dec 25 Dec 25