All You Need to Know About Federal Holidays for 2023

Learn about the full schedule—and your employee rights to observe holidays that aren't on the list.


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Although you’d think they’d be the same every year, federal holidays can be difficult to keep track of. You’re not alone if you’re confused about which days are federal holidays. Some days are pegged to an exact date. Christmas, for example, is always December 25. But, other days, like President's Day, the observed holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and Thanksgiving, are floating. They're tied to a specific day of the week during a particular month, rather than tied to a specific date—which means they could be a different date each year.

So, when and what exactly are federal holidays? And what about the holidays that aren't on that list? These are all great questions you might be asking for 2023. And, depending on where you work, it’s also imperative to clarify if you’ll be paid for certain holidays or not.

Here’s the breakdown of the most common questions about federal holidays and the answers that will help you plan the year ahead, along with the full federal holiday schedule for 2023.

What is a federal holiday?

A federal holiday is one that the U.S. government gives to its employees as a paid day off. On these days, U.S. government offices—like the post office and social security office—are closed. The United States Congress designates these days. Essential government offices—like law enforcement and border control—will still be staffed, but sometimes minimally and with limited availability to the public. When a federal holiday falls on a Saturday, federal employees usually receive the preceding Friday off and, if it falls on a Sunday, they get the following Monday off. Currently, there are 11 federal holidays, but they have changed over the years and could change again in the future.

When did federal holidays start?

Federal holidays have a long history dating back to June 28, 1870, when Congress created the first federal holiday for federal government employees in the District of Columbia. By 1885, these days extended to federal workers throughout the country. The first federal holidays were New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. 

Other days followed throughout the years, culminating in today’s grand total of 11. The newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, was added by President Joe Biden on June 17, 2021. Juneteenth is a commemoration of the delayed emancipation of enslaved African-Americans. 

Do federal holidays apply to all employees in the U.S.?

Only federal government employees are explicitly entitled to paid leave on federal holidays. The Office of Personnel Management fact sheet breaks down pay and overtime compensation for various categories of federal employees. Because the government is closed, most major institutions will close too. Schools, banks, and many businesses will close. But, depending on the company and the hiring mechanism, employees of private businesses may or may not be paid on these days. According to 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “over 3 in 4 civilian workers—77 percent—received paid holidays in March 2018, averaging eight paid holidays per year.” 

The federal government cannot force states or private companies to recognize federal holidays; however, most do. A private-sector employer can choose to grant its employee none, some, or all of the federal holidays—and it is at their discretion to pay employees for the day off. Some employees are protected by trade unions, which may have already negotiated pay and leave for those days.

If you're unsure which holidays you are entitled to as an employee, it is best to work with your employer’s human resources office to understand which days the company or institution honors, and how you’ll be compensated. 

What is the federal holiday schedule for 2023?

  • New Year’s Day: Monday, January 2 (fixed)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday: Monday, January 16 (third Monday in January)
  • President’s Day: Monday, February 20 (third Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day: Monday, May 29 (last Monday in May)
  • Juneteenth National Independence Day: Monday, June 19 (fixed)
  • Independence Day: Tuesday, July 4 (fixed)
  • Labor Day: Monday, September 4 (first Monday in September)
  • Indigenous Peoples' Day (also observed as Columbus Day): Monday, October 9 (second Monday in October)
  • Veteran’s Day: Friday, November 10 (fixed)
  • Thanksgiving Day: Thursday, November 23 (fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day: Monday, December 25 (fixed)

What about Inauguration Day?

After every presidential election, on January 20, federal employees get this day as a paid holiday. Although it isn’t designated a federal holiday, it is honored as one.

Which federal holidays have been renamed?

Washington’s birthday is often called President’s Day, and in the early 2000s some lobbied to commemorate Lincoln’s birthday too. But there’s still just one day on the federal holiday calendar. Although four Presidents were born in February, none of their birthdays fall on the exact date of Washington’s birthday (otherwise known as President’s Day). 

Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native nations to the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas

In October 2021, President Biden signed the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day and repeated the efforts in 2022. However, he also issued a proclamation to still recognize the same day (the second Monday in October) as Columbus Day.

Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 as an alternative to Columbus Day, and to instead honor the cultures and suppressed histories of indigenous peoples. Though both holidays are nationally recognized, many states, cities, and individuals have shifted to celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day in place of Columbus Day.

What other holidays are recognized by states?

States are allowed to have their own holidays to celebrate an event or person with special importance. These state holidays mean that schools, businesses, and non-essential local government offices are likely closed, and most employees get the day off. A good example is Fat Tuesday in honor of Mardi Gras in Louisiana. The Department of Labor in each state clarifies and publicizes the applicable state holidays.

Are you entitled to take off non-federal religious holidays?

While Christmas is recognized as a federal holiday, many other religious holidays are not. In some communities, cities, and states, religious observances are normalized, even though those dates are not official federal holidays. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “employers with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for workers who wish to observe religious holidays.” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects employees from religious discrimination, which may take the form of denying an employee days off work to observe their religious practices and holidays. However, these days are not considered workplace holidays. Employees may have to use their annual paid leave to apply to those days or take them off as unpaid leave. If a company decides to close for a religious or other holiday, its workers are not necessarily entitled to be paid for this day.

In more remote and flexible workplaces, some employers have allowed people to choose not to observe certain federal holidays, like Thanksgiving or Christmas Day and to apply that paid day off to another day throughout the year. This company-specific practice varies by workplace, sometimes only being shifted to another religious holiday and other times applying to any day of the employee’s choosing.

If you are looking to observe a holiday that isn't recognized as a federal or state holiday, get familiar with your employee rights for accommodation before having a conversation with your employer.

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