The state of American holidays is embarrassing. Holidays are meant to commemorate a cultural value or note an event of historical importance. Most American holidays do not do this. Sure, they intend to. Maybe at one point in time they did, but I believe most people relate to holidays as a way to get off from work or school. American holidays celebrate the opportunity to remove ourselves from our culture — potentially day drinking to forget the stress that comes from living in with. There’s no love for our country and values in Labor Day.
Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday by congress on June 16, 2021 and — while some dubious actors have derided this declaration — it’s already one of the best federal holidays by my metric. Holidays should 1) be historical, 2) celebrate a value, and 3) maintain a ritual or tradition. Juneteenth fits all three, which is more than I can say for most of the ten other federally-recognized holidays. This might be why some have suggested we only add federal holidays if we agree to remove one of the ones we’ve got. Of course this poses a dilemma: which of these miserable holidays should we get rid of first?
So here’s my list of best to worst federal holidays and my recommended replacement. I should say: I have a general desire to have a federal holiday every month. Some of my recommended replacements may seem whacky because I’m trying to fill out the whole calendar. Again, my criteria is a holiday should be 1) historical, 2) celebrate a value and 3) maintain a ritual or tradition.
11. Christmas Day
Christmas is easily the most defensible federal holiday. It commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ — a historic and religious figure that’s shaped much of the planet’s culture. It conveys many of the values of our nation’s people by being intrinsically linked to the teachings of Jesus Christ and Christianity. It also has recognizable customs such as Christmas service at church, family dinner (or breakfast, in my experience), and opening presents with kids the next morning. Christmas has transcended its ancient roots and found a place in our modern culture. Much of this is the opportunity for propagating consumerism with the act of gift-giving, but the core of Christmas’ original purpose and importance is retained in family units across the country. Christmas stays.
10. Independence Day
Almost every country in the world has an Independence Day — or something similar — and it’s easy to understand why. Celebrating the founding of your country is a great catchall for celebrating everything about it. Every significant accomplishment, beloved leader, historic event, influential art, and whatever else can be celebrated on Independence Day. America’s Independence Day is arguably the most historic independence day (it’s not called “the shot heard round the world” for nothing). Barbecuing and fireworks are ingrained in American culture even outside this holiday, and the day celebrate the most American of values: independence.
The United States’ Independence Day gets extra points for being the country that went independent before it was cool. Some 250 years later, the fiery desire for independence that revolutionized the world still defines American culture. So much so that it’s a point of derision for foreigners when they meet Americans. Other countries may have their own celebrations of independence, but we’re the only country that’s ridiculed for it. Now that’s a cultural touchstone.
Even as the current political era has birthed resentment for America’s past, the nation’s founding continues to be a point of pride for all Americans. It’s the story of a disadvantaged group giving the finger to their masters. Everyone can feel good about that story because everyone has some villain in their life — even if they act as the villain for someone else’s life. Independence Day stays.
Perhaps the first truly American holiday, Thanksgiving is the only federal holiday that is both 1) not celebrated anywhere else, and 2) doesn’t suck! For any Canadians reading this: I know there is a “Canadian Thanksgiving” but the fact it is most commonly referred to as “Canadian Thanksgiving” gives you an idea on how relevant that holiday is to the rest of us.
From my perspective, Thanksgiving is the model other holidays should aspire to. It’s a holiday that inspires a complete transformation for the country. Personal conversations around November are all attuned to plans for the holiday. Are you seeing your family? Will you come to our Friendsgiving? What are you doing for the holiday? There’s a genuine interest and concern in our fellow man.
This is a holiday for gathering friends and family to share thanks for one another and we embody that during the Thanksgiving season. We seek out opportunities to include others in our Thanksgiving. Even if you find yourself at a McDonalds around 3 pm on Thanksgiving Day — because you didn’t plan your weeklong vacation very well — everyone working is mindful you’ve somehow been left out of holiday plans. They’re genuine and earnest in wishing you a happy Thanksgiving. This is a holiday that makes minimum-wage fast food workers temporarily forget the hellscape of their job and feel compassion for one of those customers that usually treat them like garbage. Thanksgiving is incredible. It stays.
The newest federal holiday is already one of the better ones. I haven’t actually experienced a Juneteenth celebration, but from my perspective of ignorance it seems to serve a similar purpose to Black History Month. Juneteenth recognizes the unique history of Black Americans and the enormous role they’ve played in shaping the identity of the United States. It’s worth dedicating an entire day to the complex history of Black Americans along with the accomplishments, contributions, and leaders from that community.
Juneteenth is also a holiday that’s been celebrated around the country for decades. It’s historical significance refers to union officers informing slaves in Texas they had been freed, several years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed. Much of the rituals and traditions are similar to Black History Month’s call to recognize and acknowledge the influence and accomplishments of Black Americans. The established celebrations of Juneteenth should put to rest any suggestion to celebrate Emancipation Proclamation Day or whatever half-baked alternative. You can’t birth culture with a holiday, but you can recognize what’s already there. Juneteenth stays.
7. New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day is kind of a practical holiday. Everyone knows how humans celebrate the planet earth circling around the sun and that usually involves being hungover the next day. Rather than deplete the workforce of a sick day, we decided to give everyone the day off. This also means New Year’s Day is the most hollow of federal holidays. It doesn’t really communicate any value or tradition other than a crazy weekend.
It does maintain a lot of potential for value and tradition. I think we should lean into the storytelling of “new beginnings” that comes with New Year’s and embrace those “new year resolutions” that get so much flak. Yes, we’ve all experienced a resolution that failed in its first week. It’s become a cliché to adopt a new year resolution, but we should dispense with that negativity. I think there is a tangible gain in legitimizing a holiday that urges us to be better.
The operational challenge of New Year’s Day is its proximity to Christmas Day a week earlier. Anyone who’s worked an office job knows nothing is accomplished between December 25 and January 2. People may come into the office, but they’re doing jack shit. I’ve seen this across industries and companies. New Year’s is already a practical holiday, so let’s extend that practicality and give the whole country off between December 25 and January 2. We already do it for schools, why not for adults? We can justify this week off by rebranding it as a meditation on our past year and how to improve in the next year. New Year’s Eve can be the final hoorah of bad habits before our new self is born out of the unbearable pain of the following morning.
For this change to stick, we’d have to change the name and be more intentional in the weeklong schedule for reflection, but I think there’s potential. Let’s keep New Year’s Day (and add another five days for the whole week).
6/5. Veterans Day / Memorial Day
Both Veterans Day and Memorial Day are meaningful enough they don’t deserve a glib remark on my blog, but they’re also so insignificant to most Americans they might as well not exist at all. Growing up in an immigrant family, in a blue state, with no attachment to the United States’ military or anyone adjacent to it — both Veterans Day and Memorial Day were meaningless for the entirety of my upbringing. I think the most significant Memorial Day was when The Day After Tomorrow marketed its release on that weekend, which really speaks to the average American’s engagement with these holidays. They are a generic three-day weekend for commerce and spending, nothing more.
Many military families take both of these holidays very seriously, but I think it’d be best for everyone involved if we moved all the rituals for these days to Independence Day. Afterall, our country only exists because of our veterans and those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It’s thematically consistent to pay respects on Independence Day and those who deserved to be honored will receive more recognition if these rituals are on a day people already celebrate in earnest. Not to mention, if we’re counting what federal holidays celebrate and comparing that to our culture, I don’t feel great about three days commemorating our country’s constant wars. Memorial Day and Veterans Day are already ignored by most Americans, and we’re not doing any favors to people who care about those days by pretending otherwise. Drop Memorial Day. Drop Veterans Day. With both holidays out, there’s an opportunity to celebrate new holidays in their place.
Memorial Day occurs in late May — close to the end of the public school year and the beginning of warmer weather for much of the country. A fitting holiday in this month would give schoolchildren a chance to celebrate their freedom from the oppressive environment of school — ideally encouraging them to spend time outdoors in the nice weather.
I think the best option is to recognize Earth Day as a federal holiday and move it to May 31. Earth Day is currently celebrated on April 22, but that date has no real significance. Earth Day is also a holiday already enthusiastically celebrated by many Americans. I have some complicated thoughts on if the pseudo-religious environmentalism that possess Earth Day is good for our culture, but the holiday isn’t really the problem. It is a benefit to us all to have a day on the calendar that encourages individuals to show appreciation for the incredible beauty of nature. I’m sure my younger-self — cooped up inside playing video games — would hate Earth Day, but it doesn’t have to be antagonistic to pasty boys like myself. Something as simple as going for a walk is pretty awesome, if for no other reason but to clear your head from the chaos of an interconnected world. Earth Day already has some momentum and supports the values of most Americans, we should make it a federal holiday.
Veterans Day is in early November, which means it’s already inconveniently placed close to Thanksgiving. There’s a bigger elephant in the room though. The most important holiday of the year. The one everyone loves yet has never been recognized: Halloween.
Halloween is actually the best holiday in the United States and it is a gross failure of our culture not to recognize it as such. I’m not certain there’s any real history to Halloween — only some urban legends and truncated mythos — but it is the only holiday I can think of that celebrates the inherent creativity of the human condition. That feat makes the holiday’s significance overcome any lack of history backing it. Uniquely, Halloween gives us agency on how to celebrate. We choose what works of art have affected us enough to inspire parody through costumes. The popularity of the holiday has let it transcend its roots in spooky stories and skeletons. It is now a general appreciation for the arts. Not only do we dress as our favorite characters, but we make our own costumes and decorations. Halloween shares an impressive accomplish with Thanksgiving by transforming every aspect of our culture when it draws near. Businesses change their décor, managers implements spooky team builders, media products time their release with the day, and all the other good stuff. Even opportunistic politicians recognize its appeal to the general public — and they’re right. Halloween is well-deserving and long overdue for recognition as a federal holiday.
4. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday
I think Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a first attempt to accomplish what Juneteenth now does. Politicians in the 1980s saw an opportunity to recognize a day for Black Americans by capitalizing on the widespread popularity of Martin Luther King Jr. These conversations were held under the presidency of Republican Ronald Reagan, with a Republican-controlled congress back when Americans were still dropping the n-word like it was nothing. Was MLK Day the best representation of Black Americans’ relationship with our country? Maybe not, but it was the most politically expedient and certainly better than nothing. I believe whatever was accomplished with MLK Day is now accomplished with Juneteenth. Is there something specific about MLK that should be memorialized? Maybe, but that’s true of a lot of historical figures and they don’t all need their own day. Drop Martin Luther King Jr. Day and free up the calendar for something else.
MLK Day is typically in late January. If we’re trying to fill the calendar with federal holidays, you’ll note we already have New Year’s Day in early January, so let’s use this removal to populate the most dull month of the year: March. March is the only month without a real holiday. There’s St. Patrick’s Day but I refuse to believe anyone actually celebrates that holiday — they treat it as an excuse to drink and have a three-day weekend just like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. There’s not a lot of other options to capitalize on already established holidays, so I’m going to make a stretch and go with a suggestion I think would be popular if we coalesced around a specific day in the year.
You could say one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s greatest strengths was his storytelling. His skill as an orator made a strong impression, but it is ultimately the words MLK spoke — written on the page first — that moved our nation to historic change for the better. With this in mind, it is appropriate to recommend replacing his day with a holiday that celebrates the writers and speakers of our nation who have displayed a talent for moving the universe with their words. For example, William Shakespeare’s play on Julius Caesar is the entry point for most people in understanding the story of Julius Caesar. Of course, this play is a dramatic adaptation of life and not a true documentation of events. Students of history know the line “beware the ides of March” was never spoken in ancient Rome, but there are far more students of Shakespeare and that line has impacted their view of that historical event because of those words. I think it would be fitting to celebrate March 15 as Ides of March Day. Not because that line is particularly significant, but it is an obvious example of how the fictional representation of an event has become more well-known than the event itself. The story has superseded reality. It has become part of the human mythos. Sometimes myths are more true than the truth.
This idea might need some workshopping — and there’s probably a better day/example than March 15 and the Ides of March. Personally, I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan, but I didn’t think I could sell people on celebrating Starcraft’s release date on March 31, 1998. This was the next best option.
3. Presidents’ Day
There’s something especially condescending about the governing body that decides holidays over-representing people from that governing body for materialization. Presidents’ Day is on George Washington’s birthday, but Abraham Lincoln’s birthday — a week and few days earlier — is also a holiday for many states in the country. Don’t get me wrong, Washington and Lincoln were great presidents — but they don’t need their own fucking day. Washington was at the rager on July 4, 1776, and I can say with some confidence Lincoln would be thrilled if people were still celebrating Independence Day instead of his birthday. Consolidate all celebrations of political figures on the day for celebrating all things related to the country. We don’t need more holidays for presidents.
February has an obvious first contender for a new federal holiday in Valentine’s Day. I’m not in love with the commercialization of Valentine’s Day. I would like the day to be a celebration of selfless love — which is even more beautiful in the context of a relationship. More and more the day is becoming a point of anxiety for people in an uncertain relationship. Did you just start dating? Are you going through a rough patch? Is your reaction to marketing about Valentine’s Day going to seal your fate? I’ve noticed the healthy couples I know tend to go out to dinner on February 13, February 15, or the subsequent weekend after the holiday. I can’t really blame any of that on the holiday though.
Americans love the story of an underdog and pursuing your dreams. Both of those often jive well with the best love stories. Overcoming your insecurities to confess your true feelings for someone is a tale that never tires. We benefit by encouraging love and expressions of love. Valentine’s Day is your new February federal holiday.
2. Labor Day
No one cares about Labor Day, but funnily enough people care more and more about our relationship with work. That’s the nice way of saying “we know the stress brought on by our work-obsessed culture.” Another version of this article attempted to put forth 52 federal holidays to shorten our workweek to four days a week (since I’m struggling to come up with 11 I decided against that scope). We should be more precise on our actual interest which is mental health.
Labor Day happens in September which is also when Suicide Awareness Day takes place. We can adapt that day to a general Metal Health Awareness Day. I’d actually go further and tie the holiday into some spiritual conceptualization of our soul — which is really meant to encompass our overall “well-being” in terms people often use. You may be physically healthy but unfulfilled. You may be rewarded in your lifestyle but unhappy for some reason. This would be the day to acknowledge our humanistic desire for meaning and purpose. Are we living up to our ideals? The language may be vague new age spirituality stuff, but everyone has these questions in life. Even a hedge fund manager asks himself if he’d be better off going independent, professional athletes wonder if they’ll have time to start a family, and etc. It is an American ideal to never settle on your ambition and that requires some introspection on where you are right now.
Drop Labor Day. Replace it with a Day for the Soul.
1. Columbus Day
Columbus Day is so bad, it’s already been removed across the country. I think “Indigenous People Day” is also a half-baked holiday — primarily because it seems like a day motivated by resentment rather than an appreciation for indigenous people, but that’s just my read. We already have a holiday in October, so dropping Columbus Day let’s us fill in the remaining two months: April or August.
April is the most promising month because there’s three hot contenders for a new holiday. The most obvious is Easter Sunday, but I’m not a big fan of Christianity and don’t think we need more religious holidays. I would find it hysterical to dedicated April 20 as the official weed smoking holiday, but as funny as that might be I’m also not eager to define 1/11th of our federal holidays with drug abuse.
The final option is April Fool’s Day — which is as unique of a holiday as any in the year. There’s barely any history to it and it’s become so predictable most of the jokes are not funny at all, but I think we’ve moved past the expectation that we will be truly fooled on April Fool’s Day. I think we should broaden it’s definition to be more about — as English people might say — “taking the piss.” One of the defining characteristics of American culture is our acceptance of mocking the status quo or those in power. Enshrining April Fool’s Day as the opportunity to dole out those tongue-in-cheek criticisms would not only be appropriate, but healthy for the future of our country. We can start by making fun of Christopher Columbus and all the people who have tied their sense of identity to some exploitative explorer from 300 years ago.
In review, these are the new federal holidays:
- December 26 – January 2: New Year’s Resolution Week
- February 14: Valentine’s Day
- March 15: Ides of March Day
- April 1: April Fool’s Day
- May 31: Earth Day
- June 19: Juneteenth
- July 4: Independence Day
- September 1st Monday: Day of the Soul
- October 31: Halloween
- November Last Thursday: Thanksgiving
- December 24/25: Christmas Eve + Day