Special Report

The Origins of July 4th and Every Other Federal Holiday

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New Year’s Day
> Celebrated on: January 1

New Year’s Day has been a federal holiday in the U.S. since 1885. January 1 is the first day of the Gregorian calendar, which was first introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, replacing the Julian calendar. The Gregorian calendar fixed a small inaccuracy that caused a regression of one day a century.

Jan. 1, which was also the first day of the Julian calendar, was chosen to be the first of the new year in honor of Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings and the month’s namesake.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
> Celebrated on: 3rd Monday of January each year

Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and his achievements. The official name of the federal holiday is the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and was assassinated in 1968.

The first federal Martin Luther King holiday was celebrated in 1986, three years after President Ronald Reagan signed the bill making the day a federal holiday and 15 years after the idea to honor King with a holiday was brought up. Some states did not observe the holiday for many years — the last three started observing it in 2000 — and instead celebrated Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, who was born on Jan. 19.

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President’s Day
> Celebrated on: 3rd Monday in February

President’s Day — officially Washington’s Birthday — is a federal holiday in honor of the first president of the United States and commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, George Washington. Washington who was born on Feb. 22, 1732.

The federal holiday was established in 1885 but became popular as President’s Day after 1971. That year, a bill — the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which aimed to create more three-day weekends — went into effect.

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Memorial Day
> Celebrated on: Last Monday of May

Memorial Day is a day on which Americans honor those who died serving in the military. The day, however, was originally known as Decoration Day after Americans in the late 1860s started holding tributes to honor those who died during the Civil War. How that tradition started is not known, but General John A. Logan, leader of an organization of Northern Civil War veterans, designated May 30, 1868, as the first official Decoration Day.

Memorial Day, also known as the unofficial start of the summer, officially became a federal holiday in 1971 with the passing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The law moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May.

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Juneteenth National Independence Day
> Celebrated on: June 19

Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday in the U.S. President Joe Biden signed the bill establishing the new federal holiday on June 17, 2021. The bill commemorates the end of slavery in the country.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Sept. 22, 1862, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that federal troops took control of Texas — where slavery had continued for over two years despite the federal law — to enforce the proclamation. The first Juneteenth celebration took place in Texas on June 19, 1866, and was called Jubilee Day. Texas was also the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday — in 1979.