Guide to Holiday Related Laws in the United States

From consumer rights, free speech, tax deductions, days off work, and airline passenger rights, here are the laws you need to know for holidays in the U.S.

1. Official Holidays

What are the official legal holidays?

“Official holidays” or “legal holidays” generally refers to the holidays designated for government workers to have the day off. They generally do not involve any requirements for private sector companies.

There are different official holiday calendars for the federal government versus the state governments, though all states observe certain holidays (see below).

What are the official federal holidays?

On officially designated federal holidays, non-essential federal government employees generally get the day off work, and most federal institutions, agencies and offices are closed, including the U.S. Post Office.15 USC 6103

These are also called “banking holidays” because “federally chartered” banks (most large national banks such as Bank of America) also generally observe these holidays since they rely on federal offices to process certain transactions.

Holidays that fall on a Saturday are observed by federal employees who work a standard Monday to Friday week on the previous Friday. Federal employees who work on Saturday will observe the holiday on Saturday; Friday will be a regular work day. Holidays that fall on a Sunday are observed by federal workers the following Monday. See Office of Personnel Management for more.

  • New Year’s Day, January 1
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, the third Monday in January
  • Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February
  • Memorial Day, the last Monday in May
  • Juneteenth (June 19)
  • Independence Day, July 4
  • Labor Day, the first Monday in September
  • Columbus Day, the second Monday in October
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November
  • Christmas Day, December 25

People commonly mistake the following holidays as federal holidays, but they are NOT: Valentine’s Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, President’s Day, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Tax Day, Cinco De Mayo, Mother’s Day, Flag Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Hanukah/Chanukah, Groundhog Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice.

What are the official state holidays?

While each state sets its own holiday schedule, the following holidays are observed by all 50 states:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Most states add a few more holidays to their schedules, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

See California holidays.

2. Holiday displays

Are religious and other groups allowed to set up their preferred holiday displays in government buildings?

If a government building allows for any religious or holiday related displays, such as a Christmas Tree or menorah, it must allow any and all displays from other groups as well, under the U.S. Constitution 1st amendment “free speech.” See our Guide to Free Speech for more.

3. Taxes & the Holidays

Generally around “The Holidays” is when many people start thinking about their taxes, and particularly giving to various charities. Why? Well not just because of the “holiday cheer,” but because the end of the year is the last chance to get a potential deduction for charitable giving when doing your taxes a few months later.

However, starting in tax year 2018, the charitable tax deduction is not as much of an incentive for many people. This is because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased the “standard deduction” such that many more people will not need to “itemize” their deductions.

4. Traveling

If you will be flying over the holidays, you should know about your rights as an airline passenger. For example, did you know that an airline can only hold your plane on the tarmac for a maximum of 4 hours? Before you fly, see your other rights at our Guide to Laws for Airline Passengers.

Also, if you’re staying or considering staying at an Airbnb, or hosting an Airbnb, you should check whether that short term rental is legal!

5. Buying Gifts

Holidays often mean a time of giving gifts. Make sure you know your rights at our Guide to Consumer Rights.

6. Other holiday related laws

States and local governments often have additional laws for certain holidays, such as “Blue Laws” which prohibit the sale of certain items (like alcohol) on these days. And many localities have relaxed enforcement of things like parking laws. So check your local and state governments for these issues. (And check out our Guide to Holiday Laws for California)

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