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What does it take to create a federal holiday?

In the United States, Congress holds the authority to establish holidays for federal institutions. As we approach year-end and a few of these federal holidays, here is a recap of the history behind these old and new commemorations.

Federal holidays throughout history

The first federal holidays were created in 1870 when Congress granted paid time off to federal workers in the District of Columbia for New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. In 1880, George Washington’s birthday was added. In 1885, Congress extended some holiday coverage to all federal employees. Although Thanksgiving Day was included in the first holiday bill, it was not until 1941 that Congress designated the fourth Thursday in November as the official date.

Only 12 federal holidays have been approved by Congress, with the most recent being Juneteenth National Independence Day, which President Joe Biden signed into law this year. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Its name stems from June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved people of their freedom two months after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Observing federal holidays

On federal holidays, all nonessential federal offices and many financial institutions are closed for business. Although often observed nationwide, they are not “national holidays.” Each state decides whether or not to legally observe a federal holiday. In fact, even though many states recognize most, or all, federal 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. For holidays falling on a Saturday, Federal Reserve Banks and branches are open the preceding Friday. For holidays falling on a Sunday, all Federal Reserve Banks and branches are closed the following Monday.

For a full list of upcoming Federal Reserve Bank holidays, be sure to bookmark the Holiday Schedules page and visit the Fed360® Dates to Remember page.