Flag Holidays and Observances
Flag Holidays and Observances for 2016
January 1st – New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day falls on January 1st and starts a new year according to the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and replaced the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar was slightly inaccurate , thus causing the vernal equinox to move backwards in the calendar year. January 1st always begins a new year according to the Gregorian calendar. New Year’s Day marks the end of the New Year’s Eve celebrations and gives many Americans a chance to remember the previous year.
January 18th – Martin Luther King Day
Martin Luther King was an influential civil rights leader who led the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. He was a staunch advocate of non-violent protest which led him to be the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated in 1968, and shortly thereafter a campaign was begun for his birthday to become a holiday. Trade unions strongly endorsed the first bill introduced in Congress, and with the help of six million signatures the bill became law in 1983. Martin Luther King Day was first observed in 1986.
February 1st – National Freedom Day
National Freedom Day commemorates February 1st, 1865 when President Lincoln signed a resolution that proposed the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment outlawed slavery and was ratified on December 18th, 1865. A former slave, Major Wright Senior, played an integral role in creating this observance. Major Wright was an esteemed Philadelphia community leader and active in education, business, politics and the media. He dreamed of a day in which all Americans could celebrate their freedoms. The first commemoration of such a day took place with the laying of a wreath at the Liberty Bell on February 1st, 1942 even though it was not officially a legal holiday. On June 30th, 1948, President Truman signed a bill proclaiming February 1st, 1949 as the first official National Freedom Day.
February 2nd – Groundhog Day
Thousands of years ago, when nature worship was quite common, people in the area of Europe now known as Germany, held the belief that the badger could predict the coming of spring. They studied the badger to know when to plow their fields and plant their crops. When the first German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania they probably understood that this was not true but continued the tradition from their native homeland. However, there were not many badgers in Pennsylvania so the groundhog became the predictor of spring. Tradition says that if a groundhog sees its shadow on February 2nd, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring is on its way.
February 12th – Lincoln’s Birthday
Abraham Lincoln began his political career at the age of twenty-three. As a Whig Party member he unsuccessfully ran for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832. He joined the new Republican Party in 1854 and gained national recognition during the 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, who eventually would defeat Lincoln for a U.S. Senate seat. Lincoln was elected president in 1860 as a Republican and managed to rally most northern Democrats to the Union cause during the Civil War. Lincoln’s birthday is officially recognized as a holiday in the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and New York. Many states have a joint holiday to honor both Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, calling it Presidents Day.
February 14th – Valentine’s Day
There are several Saints called Valentine who are honored on February 14th each year. Valentine’s Day first became associated with romanticism in England during the Middle Ages. This might have occurred as a progression from the Pagan fertility festivals held in Europe as the winter came to an end. Traditionally, lovers exchanged hand written notes and poems. Commercial cards were introduced in the mid nineteenth century.
February 15th – Presidents’ Day (Washington’s Birthday)
Washington’s Birthday officially honors the life and achievements of our first president, George Washington. Other institutions such as state and municipal governments and private businesses may use other names, such as President’s Day, to broaden the meaning of this federal holiday. Some states and organizations honor all presidents on this day, particularly Abraham Lincoln, as his birthday was also in mid-February.
March 2nd – Read Across America Day
In 1997, the National Education Association began advocating a special day to celebrate the benefits of reading throughout the United States. The first Read Across America Day was held on March 2nd, 1998 coinciding with the birthday of Dr. Seuss, famous children’s author. Read Across America Day promotes reading and reading related activities, especially for children and young adults. Schools, libraries and community centers participate by promoting and sponsoring various reading activities and events.
March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is a day to remember one of Ireland’s patron Saints, St. Patrick. In the United States, it largely celebrates Irish-American culture and the use of the color green is predominant. St. Patrick’s Day is almost always celebrated on March 17th but may be moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. This occurred in 1940 so the celebrations would not fall on Palm Sunday, and in 2008 so the celebrations would not fall on Holy Monday, the last Monday before Easter.
March 27th – Easter Sunday
Many Christians across the world celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. The date of Easter is determined by the ecclesiastical approximation of the March equinox. In Pagan times, many societies organized spring festivals. Many of these spring festivals celebrated the re-birth of nature, the return of the land to fertility and the birth of many young animals. In Christian times, spring began to be associated with Jesus Christ’s resurrection. The idea of the resurrection joined well with the idea of nature’s re-birth in Pagan beliefs.
April 18th – Patriot’s Day
Patriot’s Day commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution and is an official holiday in the states of Massachusetts and Maine. Patriot’s Day should not be confused with Patriot Day, held on September 11th to mark the anniversary of terrorist attacks on American soil. The first battles of the Revolution were fought in the areas of Lexington and Concord, near Boston on April 19th, 1775. For this reason, the third Monday in April is symbolic and represents the independence of an emerging new and free United States of America.
May 1st – Loyalty Day
Loyalty Day is a day set aside for the reaffirmation of loyalty to our country and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom. Loyalty Day was first observed on May 21st, 1921 as “Americanization Day” and was meant to counterbalance Labour Day on May Day (May 1st), an international holiday commemorating the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886. The U.S. Congress made Loyalty Day an official holiday on July 18th, 1958 with President Eisenhower proclaiming May 1st, 1959 the first official observance of Loyalty Day.
May 5th – Cinco de Mayo
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican pride and heritage. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the anniversary of an early victory in the Battle of Pu-bela on May 5th, 1862 during the War of Mexican Independence. It is believed that the origins of Cinco de Mayo lie in the celebrations of Mexicans living in California in response to this important victory over the French troops.
May 8th – Mother’s Day
Many people believe that two women, Anna Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe were instrumental in creating the traditions of Mother’s Day in the United States. However, others give credit to Juliet Calhoun Blakely from Albion, Michigan. In the late 1800’s, Blake-ly’s two sons paid tribute to her annually and encouraged others to do the same to their mothers, thus beginning the traditions of Mother’s Day. Julia Ward Howe, around 1870, urged for Mother’s Day to be celebrated annually as to ‘encourage pacifism and disarmament amongst women.’ This celebration continued in Boston for about ten years under her sponsorship but quickly ended upon her death. In 1907, Anna Jarvis held a private memorial in honor of her mother, Ann Jarvis. Ann Jarvis had organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to improve health and sanitary conditions where she lived, Grafton, West Virginia. In 1908, Anna Jarvis arranged a service in the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton. The service was attended by 407 children and their mothers. The church has since been designated as an Historic Landmark. President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the creation of a national Mother’s Day in 1914.
May 15th – Peace Officers Memorial Day
Peace Officers Memorial Day is held every May 15th to honor federal, state and local law enforcement officers killed or disabled in the line of duty. This observance is held in conjunction with Police Week. The idea of Peace Officers Memorial Day came to fruition when Congress asked the president to designate May 15th to honor law enforcement officers. President Kennedy signed the bill into law on October 1st, 1962. According to the Legal Information Institute, the president is requested to issue a proclamation to: designate May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day; to direct government officials to display the United States flag at half staff on all government buildings; and to invite state and local governments and the people to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
May 21st – Armed Forces Day
Armed Forces Day pays tribute to the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces. Armed Forces Day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May. On August 31st, 1949, Louis Johnson, the Secretary of Defense, announced the creation of Armed Forces Day to Replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The First Armed Forces Day was celebrated on May 20th, 1950.
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May 25th – National Missing Children’s Day
National Missing Children’s Day was first observed in 1983, following a proclamation issued by president Ronald Reagan. During the years of 1979 through 1981, a series of child abductions stunned the American public. Ethan Patz, a six year old child disappeared on his way to school on May 25th, 1979. His case received a large amount of media coverage and subsequently led to the creation of the missing chil-dren’s movement.
May 30th – Memorial Day
Memorial Day started as a day to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. After the conclusion of World War I, it was extended to include all who died in any war or military action. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and the current name did not come into use until after World War II. Decoration Day and then Memorial Day was held on May 30th, regardless of the day of the week, until the passage of the Uniform Holidays Bill in 1968.
June 14th – Flag Day
On June 14th, 1777, the Continental Congress replaced the British Grand Union flag with a new design featuring 13 white stars on a blue canton combined with 13 red and white stripes. In June 1886, Bernard Cigrand made his first public proposal for an annual observance for the birth of our flag when he wrote “The Fourteenth of June” for the Chicago Argus newspaper. His efforts finally led President Woodrow Wilson to proclaim a nationwide observance on June 14th, 1916. However, Flag Day did not become official until August, 1949 when President Harry Truman signed legislation making June 14th officially Flag Day.
June 17th – Bunker Hill Day
An official holiday in the state of Massachusetts, Bunker Hill Day marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution. The battle, which occurred in 1775, was part of the Siege of Boston. It is unclear as to when Bunker Hill Day was officially observed, but records indicate it goes back to at least 1863.
June 19th – Father’s Day
There are several events which may have inspired Father’s Day. One of these was the beginning of the Mother’s Day tradition in the first decade of the 20th century. Another was a memorial service held in 1908 for a large group of men, many of whom were fathers, who were killed in a mining accident in West Virginia in 1907. The first time Father’s Day was observed was in 1910 but was first officially recognized as a holiday in 1972 by President Richard Nixon.
June 19th – Juneteenth Day
Juneteenth Day is an observance to remember when Union soldiers enforced the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all of the remaining slaves in Texas after the Civil War. After 1865, Juneteenth Day was mainly celebrated in Texas. However, it is now a state holiday or observance in most U.S. states and there is a campaign to make Juneteenth Day a national holiday.
July 4th – Independence Day
On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress secretly voted for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was first published two days later on July 4th, 1776. John Adams described how he envisioned independence should be celebrated in a letter to his wife Abigail on July 3rd,1776. He described “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations throughout the United States”.
July 24th – Parents’ Day
Parents’ Day promotes the message that the role of parental figures is important in a child’s development which requires investment, focus and commitment. The day aims to promote responsible parenting and to recognize positive parental role models and behaviors. President Bill Clinton signed a Congressional Resolution into law in 1994 establishing Parent’s Day as a national observance.
August 16th – Bennington Battle Day
Bennington Battle Day is a state holiday in Vermont to observe the anniversary of the Battle of Bennington, which took place during the Revolutionary War. Colonel Seth Warner and his 350 Green Mountain Boys, a group of soldiers from Vermont, played a vital role in defeating the British forces sent to capture the American supply depot at Bennington, a town in Southern Vermont near the border of New York.
September 5th – Labor Day
Labor Day was originally organized to celebrate the strengths and the contributions of various labor associations and unions to the United States economy. The first Labor Day was held in 1882 and its origins stem from the desire of the Central Labor Union to create a holiday for workers. It officially became a federal holiday in 1894. Many people mark Labor Day as the end of the summer season and the beginning of the fall holidays.
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September 11th – Patriot Day
Patriot Day is an annual commemoration to remember those who were injured or died during the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th, 2001. On this date, four commercial airplanes were hijacked and were flown into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the fourth crashed into a vacant field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 died in the attacks.
September 11th – National Grandparents Day
Some people consider National Grandparents Day was first proposed by Michael Goldgar in the 1970s after he visited his aunt in a nursing home. His lobbying efforts to make this day officially recognized included 17 trips to Washington D.C. over a seven year period to meet with legislators. Others believe that Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade, a housewife from West Virginia, to have been the main impetus behind the observance. Throughout the 1970s she worked to educate people about the important contributions senior citizens make to society. She urged people to adopt a grandparent, not only just for one day, but for a lifetime of experience. President Jimmy Carter signed the law creating National Grandparents Day in 1978.
September 16th – National POW/MIA Recognition Day
National POW/MIA Recognition Day is a day which many Americans take time to remember those who were prisoners of war and those who are still listed as missing in action, as well as their families. Congress passed a resolution authorizing National POW/MIA Recognition Day to be observed on July 18th, 1979. It was observed on the same date in 1980 and July 17th in 1981 and 1982. It was observed on April 9th in 1983 and July 20th in 1984. The event was observed on July 19th in 1985 and then, beginning in 1986 was permanently moved to the third Friday of September.
September 17th – Constitution Day and Citizenship Day
Constitution Day and Citizenship Day is a combined event to commemorate the signing of the Constitution of the United States and to recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become U.S. citizens. Newspaper magnate William Hearst advocated a day to celebrate U.S. citizenship in 1939. In 1940, Congress created “I Am an American Day” which was replaced by Citizenship Day in 1952.
September 25th – Gold Star Mother’s Day
The name Gold Star Mothers is associated with the custom of military families displaying a service star banner in their front window. These banners feature a star for each family member serving their country – living members represented with a blue star and a gold star representing a family member killed in the line of duty. American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. was incorporated in 1929, obtaining a federal charter from the U.S.
Congress. On June 23rd, 1936 a congressional resolution set aside the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mother’s Day.
October 3rd – Child Health Care Day
President Calvin Coolidge issued a proclamation for Child Health Day in 1928 and it was annually observed on May 1st until being observed on the first Monday of October from 1960 onwards. Child Health Day raises awareness of ways to minimize or alleviate problems that children may face including prenatal care, the impact of day care on a child’s development, preventing injuries, healthy eating and lifestyle choices, and immunization.
October 10th – Columbus Day
Columbus Day remembers Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas on October 12th, 1492. Columbus Day began as a celebration of Italian-American heritage and was first held in 1869 in San Francisco. The first state-wide observance was held in Colorado in 1907. In 1937, Columbus Day became a holiday across the United States. The date on which Columbus arrived in the Americas is also celebrated as the Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race) in Latin America and many Latino Communities in the United States.
October 15th – White Cane Safety Day
Blind and visually impaired people have and continue to make major, positive contributions to the American society. Many have also used a white cane to help them excel at educational institutions, work places and at home. The first state laws regarding the rights of blind people to travel independently with their white cane were established in 1930. These laws granted blind pedestrians protection and the right-of-way while using a white cane. In 1963, the National Federation of the Blind petitioned the governors of each state to proclaim October 15th of each year as White Cane Safety Day. The United States Congress issued and approved a joint resolution in 1964 designating October 15th of each year as White Cane Safety Day.
October 31st – Halloween
Halloween originated as a pagan festival in Europe, particularly in what is now called the United Kingdom. Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is a time when magic is the most powerful and spirits can contact the physical world. In Christian times, Halloween became a celebration of the night before All Saint’s Day. The commercialization of Halloween began in the early 1900s with postcards and die-cut paper decorations being introduced. Halloween costumes began appearing in the mid 1930s and trick-or-treat appeared in the 1950s.
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November 11th – Veterans Day
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 an armistice between Germany and the Allied nations of WWI came into effect. On November 11th, 1919 Armistice Day was celebrated for the first time. In 1926, The United States Congress officially recognized the end of WWI and declared that the armistice should be remembered with thanksgiving and prayer. The Congress also requested that the president should “issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11th and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” An act was approved by Congress on May 13th, 1938 which made November 11th in each year a legal holiday, known as Armistice Day. This act originally was intended to honor WWI veterans, however, after WWII and the Korean conflict veterans service organizations urged Congress to change the word “Armistace” to “Veterans”. Congress approved this change on June 1st, 1954 and November 11th became a day to honor all American veterans, where ever and whenever they served.
November 24th – Thanksgiving Day
There are claims the first Thanksgiving was held in 1598 in El Paso, Texas. Another early event was held in 1619 in what was then known as the Virginia Colony. Most people trace the origins of the modern Thanksgiving Day to the harvest celebrations that the Pilgrims held at Plymouth Rock in 1621. However, their first true thanksgiving event held as a group was in 1623, when they gave thanks for the rain that ended a drought. These early thanksgivings took the venue of a special church service, rather than a feast. In the second half of the 1600s thanksgivings connected to harvests became more common and started to become annual events. However, these were celebrated in different communities at different times of the year. Thanksgiving began as an annual tradition in 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national holiday of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26th. Thanksgiving has had its roots in religious and cultural traditions. However, Thanksgiving is now celebrated as more of a secular holiday.
December 7th – Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day commemorates the attack on Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, during WWII. Ironically, the Japanese goal was to prevent the United States from increasing her influence in the Pacific, however, the next day the United States entered the war. “A date that will live in infamy”…President Franklin Roosevelt.
December 24th, evening (through January 1st, evening) – Hanukkah
Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish people’s successful rebellion against the Greeks dur-ing the Maccabean War in 162 BCE. A re-dedication and ritual cleansing of the Temple occurred after this victory over the Greeks. It is believed that there was only enough consecrated oil to keep the lamp in the Temple burning for only one day, but the small bottle of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. For this reason Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, is referred to as the Feast of Lights or Festival of Lights. Moreover, the survival of Judaism over the centuries is also celebrated during this period.
December 25th – Christmas Day
The original meaning of Christmas was a special service or mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. However, many traditions which surround the holiday have their roots in pre-Christian winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life. In Roman times a mid-winter festival was held where small gifts such as dolls for children and candles for adults were exchanged. This festival culminated on December 25th in the Roman calendar and coincided with the winter solstice. In Scandinavia, a festival called Yule lasted up to 12 days and was held in late December and early January. Traditional customs included the burning of logs and parties with friends and loved ones. These customs have influenced how we celebrate Christmas today in the United States.
December 26th (Until January 1st) – Kwanzaa
Kwanza is a week-long holiday and was first celebrated in December 1966 and January 1967. Kwanza was proposed by Maulana Karenga to give individuals of African decent a holiday to celebrate their cultural heritage and the core values of family and community. Although viewed by some as an alternative to Christmas, many people celebrate aspects of both holidays.
December 31st – New Year’s Eve
In both the Gregorian calendar, which is currently used in the United States and the Julian calendar which was used until 1752 in the British colonies, the last day of the year is December 31st. In many parts of Europe, this mid-winter period was traditionally associated with feasting and parties. In the early years of the American colonial period, this type of celebration was frowned upon. However, around the start of the 1900s, New Year’s Eve celebrations started to appear and be accepted throughout society. The first ‘ball drop’ in Times Square was held in 1907.