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Federal Holidays

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Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project, 1939

Being a somewhat organized person, I have already started to plot out my schedule for next year.  When I do this, I like to check the calendar and get a list of  Federal holidays for the year.  This inspired me to think that, as a member of the Law Library blog team, I should write a short article about Federal holidays.   But somewhat to my embarrassment I started down the wrong track in my research when, without checking an index first,  I began by  turning my attention to Title 36 of the United States Code for information. 

 Title 36 of the United States Code covers Patriotic and National Observances and Ceremonies.  The law governing the observance of Memorial Day appears in section 116 of Title 36, as do the laws providing for many of our commemorative month observances.  However, I was surprised not to find more information about the other Federal holidays.  I realized I needed to start back at the drawing board like any good researcher rather than jump to the conclusion that I knew where the information lay.  So I began by searching for a list of the 2013 Federal holidays and found the official list at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  This page not only lists the Federal holidays which will be observed in 2013 but also directs the user to the relevant law: 5 U.S.C. 6103.  This law lists the legal public holidays which have been established by Congress in a statute or by presidents through executive orders or proclamations.  I remembered that President Lincoln had established the first Thanksgiving, and taking a turn on my research path, I went to look for this proclamation.

Thanksgiving was first established by President Lincoln in 1863 by Presidential Proclamation 106 which designated “the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise.”  My research established that other, subsequent presidents had issued proclamations for Thanksgiving Day until, on December 26, 1941, Congress passed Joint Resolution 41 (ch. 631 55 Stat. 862) designating the fourth Thursday in November as legal holiday.  This same resolution also legislated on an additional number of public holidays:

the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.

There in a nutshell is the legislation that established our public holidays (except for Columbus Day, which was added later).  It also reminded me of the fascinating, albeit sometimes exasperating, twists and turns of legal research.



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