There are no compulsory national holidays. Federal holidays are the most central holidays, but they are officially recognised only by the federal government; federal offices, banks and post offices are closed on these days. Nearly all states and municipalities also observe these holidays, as well as a handful of other state-specific holidays. When a public holiday falls on a weekend, it is usually observed on the nearest weekday.
The period between Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) and 1 January has such a concentration of major holidays that it is often referred to simply as “the holiday season”. School and work holidays are often taken during this time, and people visit family and friends. Airports, highways, bus and train stations will be very busy as the major holidays approach. If you must travel, plan extra time to check in and go through security. This is also a major gift-giving season; most malls and department stores will be crowded, especially the day after Thanksgiving, the week before Christmas and the day after Christmas.
- New Year’s Day (1 January) – most non-commercial businesses are closed; parades, brunches and football parties.
- Martin Luther King Day (third Monday in January) – many government offices and banks are closed; people volunteer in their communities; speeches, including on African American history and culture.
- Chinese New Year (January/February – varies according to the Chinese lunar calendar) – Chinese cultural festival.
- Super Bowl Sunday (usu. first Sunday in February) – The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the American football league NFL and the most watched sporting event of the year; supermarkets, bars and electronics stores are full; big parties to watch football.
- Lincoln’s Birthday (second Monday in February) – holiday in several states; many shops have sales.
- (Saint) Valentine’s Day (14 February) – a private celebration of romance and love. Most restaurants are crowded; the more refined ones may require reservations well in advance.
- Presidents Day (third Monday in February; officially Washington’s birthday) – many government offices and banks are closed; many shops have clearance sales.
- St Patrick’s Day (17 March) – Irish-themed parades and parties. Expect the bars to be packed. They often offer themed drink specials. Wearing green clothing or accessories is common.
- Easter (a Sunday in March or April) – Christian religious celebrations. Depending on the location, many fast food restaurants may be closed, but sit-down restaurants tend to be open. Large retailers are usually open; small shops may or may not be closed. It is assumed to be “Western Easter” unless otherwise stated.
- Passover (varies according to the Jewish calendar, eight days around Easter) – Jewish religious celebration.
- Cinco de Mayo (5 May) – A minor holiday in most parts of Mexico, often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, but nonetheless an important cultural holiday for Mexican-Americans. As with St. Patrick’s Day, expect the bars to be packed, even in places without large Mexican-American communities.
- Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May) – children and adults give presents to their mothers. Most restaurants are crowded; in the finer restaurants you may have to book well in advance.
- Memorial Day (last Monday in May) – most non-commercial businesses are closed; some patriotic ceremonies; beach and park tours; traditional start of the summer tourist season.
- Father’s Day (third Sunday in June) – children and adults give gifts to their fathers. Many restaurants and sporting events are crowded, but not as much as for Mother’s Day.
- Independence Day / Fourth of July – most non-commercial businesses are closed; patriotic parades and concerts, cookouts and beach and park tours, fireworks at dusk.
- Labour Day (first Monday in September) – most non-commercial shops are closed; barbecues and trips to beaches and parks; many shops have sales; traditional end of the summer tourist season.
- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (varies according to the Jewish calendar, September or early October) – Jewish religious holidays.
- Columbus Day (second Monday in October) – many offices and banks are closed; some shops have a sale. Italian-themed parades in some cities. Columbus Day can be controversial, especially among Native Americans and Latinos, and is not celebrated as often as in the past.
- Halloween (31 October) – children dress up and go trick-or-treating (knocking on the doors of other houses to get sweets and other treats). There are spooky attractions such as haunted corn mazes, hayrides and costume parties. Some of the small family shops and restaurants may close in the early evening.
- Veterans Day (11 November) – Government offices and banks closed; some patriotic ceremonies.
- Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November) – family meal with roast turkey as the centrepiece; many people fly or drive to visit extended family. Airports in particular will be busy on the Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Almost all businesses are closed, including grocery shops and many restaurants.
- Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) – The big Christmas shopping traditionally begins, with most shops offering sales and many opening very early in the morning. Most non-sales staff have Friday off or take it as a holiday.
- Hanukkah / Hanukkah (varies according to the Jewish calendar, usually eight days in December) – Jewish religious celebrations often culturally linked to Christmas.
- Christmas (25 December) – Families and close friends exchange gifts; Christian religious celebrations. Almost all shops, grocery shops and many restaurants are closed the evening before and throughout the day.
- Kwanzaa (26 December – 1 January) – African American cultural events.
- New Year’s Eve (31 December) – many restaurants and bars open late; many parties, especially in the big cities.
All US embassies are closed on federal holidays and host country holidays.