A Quick History of U.S. Summer Holidays

If you are new to the U.S., you will quickly realize that the summer months are filled with national holidays. From honoring those who have passed on to remembering our freedoms, these holidays are celebrated in special ways that bring families and communities together. The three holidays below are similar to “bank holidays” around the world – meaning banks, schools, government offices, and some businesses are closed.

Here’s a quick history of three summer holidays in the U.S. and how they are traditionally celebrated.

Summer Holiday #1: Memorial Day

The last Monday in May marks Memorial Day, and the date changes each year. Memorial Day is a day for remembrance of those who have died in service to the United States. This date was first celebrated in 1868 after the Civil War. Decoration Day was the original holiday name to recognize the tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags.1

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials to place flowers and the nation’s flag at the graves of soldiers. Towns host parades and festivals on this day. It is also a tradition to fly the nation’s flag on flag poles at half-staff. Furthermore, Memorial Day marks the start of the summer season in the U.S.

Summer Holiday #2: Independence Day

Fourth of July is another name for this holiday. It honors when the original 13 colonies in the U.S. claimed their independence from England in 1776 by instituting the Declaration of Independence. Traditions included ringing bells, firing guns, lighting candles, and setting off fireworks. In addition, it became an official national holiday in 1941.2

Fireworks, parades, concerts, barbecues, and family gatherings are ways people celebrate this historic event today. It is the nation’s most popular holiday. Summertime activities are often associated with this holiday, including trips to the beach, baseball games, watermelon-eating contests, pageants, and picnics.

Summer Holiday #3: Labor Day

Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. The first Monday in September marks Labor Day. Like Memorial Day, the date changes each year. The labour movement established this day in the late 19th century. It became a federal holiday in 1894. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, the average U.S. employee worked 12-hour days, seven day per week. In fact, they also faced unsafe work conditions. In 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City. This marked the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.3

Labor Day traditionally symbolizes the end of summer for the U.S. Likewise, parties, parades, athletic events, and outdoor festivals are ways people celebrate this event.

Your local Chamber of Commerce or park district can provide information on where events are scheduled near you!

1 The History of Memorial Day, PBS
2 History of July 4th Celebrations, Infoplease
3 Labor Day 2019, History