No U.S. National Holidays

November 11, 2009

Today is Veterans Day, the day we honor those who have served in our nation’s wars. Originally known as Armistice Day, this holiday was created by Congress in 1938 to celebrate the end of World War I. According to  the CRS Report for Congress, 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.” In 1954, the name Armistice Day was officially changed to Veteran’s Day, in order to honor all U.S. Veterans.

Although most of us think of Veterans Day as a national holiday, there are in fact no national holidays in the United States. To date, neither Congress nor the President has asserted the authority to declare a national holiday, and there surely would be constitutional challenges if this authority were claimed. Each State is free to decide whether or not to recognize holidays declared by Congress as “federal holidays.” Only federal employees and the District Of Columbia are bound to observe federal holidays. States decide individually whether to observe federal holidays.

Since 1870, only 11 federal holidays have been approved.

In June 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law. Four federal holidays, including Veteran’s Day, were permanently changed to Mondays. Veterans Day became the fourth Monday in October.  The only problem was that nobody liked this idea.  World War I ended with cessation of hostilities on the Western Front at “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” In fact, there had originally been a two-minute moment of silence observed at 11:00a.m on Armistice Day.

Forty six of the fifty states continued to observe Veterans Day on November 11, basically ignoring the federal change. Finally, Congress passed legislation to return Veterans Day to November 11. The bill became law  in 1978.

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