Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 119

Bank Holibobs UK vs National Holibobs USA

This is a condensed version of my various conversations with people back in the UK on Monday May 6th…

Me: Are you having a nice day?

UK peeps: Ooh, yes we are, we’ve been doing lovely things on this Bank Holiday. What did you do?

Me: I went to work and did jobs and stuff.

UK peeps: Where are your two men (hubby and son)?

Me: H is at school and himself is at work.

UK peeps: Why?

Me: Because it’s not a Bank Holiday here.

UK peeps: Do you have Bank Holidays?

Me: Well, sort of…..

And this got me to thinking, again, how similar and yet how different the Bank Holidays in the UK and the National Holidays in the USA are. Here’s a synopsis for you.

USA Holidays and Observances
Jan 1 New Year’s Day
Jan 21 Martin Luther King Day
Feb 18 Presidents’ Day
May 27 Memorial Day
Jul 4 Independence Day
Sep 2 Labor Day
Oct 14 Columbus Day (Most regions)
Nov 11 Veterans Day
Nov 28 Thanksgiving Day
Dec 24 Christmas Eve
Dec 25 Christmas Day
Dec 31 New Year’s Eve

Note that, unlike the UK, Boxing Day is not observed in the USA. This is, in particular, a real bummer for Harry – since it is his birthday. And he has always known it as Boxing Day, not December 26th, so when he is asked when his birthday is and he replies with ‘Boxing Day’, I always have to qualify this with the date, and then explain what Boxing Day is all about in the UK. (For those of you who are interested – and it is really very interesting in terms of British history and custom – see here:

UK Holiday Days
New Year’s Day January 1
Good Friday March 29
Easter Monday April 1
Early May Bank Holiday May 6
Spring Bank Holiday May 27
Summer Bank Holiday August 26
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26

Now, Brits, don’t think for a minute ‘hang on, those Americans are getting loads of free days off‘, because let me tell you that the ‘vacation’ days when you work in the USA suck. I hear lots of my American friends talk about working and their 12 days off a year (this is in addition to the national holidays and can increase after you’ve worked somewhere for, like, 100 years), which really isn’t a lot in comparison to the 20 days most UK workers get if they work full time. I know it’s even more in some public sector areas – I’ve known it to be 37 days off a year in addition to Bank Holidays. Wow.

So, this got me to thinking about the cultural differences in the holidays that are observed nationally.

This is what my friend Rachel, back in the UK, told me that she did on the very warm May Bank Holiday Monday:

The weather has been glorious for once! Took caravan near Evesham to a site right on the riverbank. Lush. Regatta at Evesham yesterday and 1940s themed May Day with vintage stalls, old cars and caravans and jazzy singers. Went to a lovely cafe with mismatched chairs, Cath Kidston tablecloths, books to borrow and lovely homegrown food. And all on our doorstep. Who knew?

Doesn’t that sound very idyllic and British?!

A delightfully British caravan!

A delightfully British caravan!

The Wychavon riverbank

The Wychavon riverbank

From my youth I remember Maypole dances and floats and street fairs with Britishness oozing out of every shop front. Bangers and mash, fish and chips, cider, beer etc (not all in my youth, I hasten to add, though some may contest that…)

So what has Memorial Day got in store for me in the USA? Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died serving the USA. People come out to honour their veterans and famous Americans by visiting the monuments in Washington and the Memorial Day weekend also marks the beginning of the busy and exciting summer season. Super good news for us is that the pools open! Hooray!

And then, of course, we have 4th July to look forward to with all its fireworks and flags and cheers of independence from the British….oh hang on a minute…….

Woohoo! Party time!

Woohoo! Party time!

Baby, you're a firework.....etc

Baby, you’re a firework…..etc

Anyway, there’s always Labor Day (which seems an odd name for a holiday day – were they being amusing?). Labor Day is observed on the first Monday in September and celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. To take advantage of large numbers of potential customers free to shop, Labor Day has become an important sale weekend for many retailers in the USA, I hear. Some retailers claim it is one of the largest sale dates of the year, second only to the Christmas season’s Black Friday (and I’ve avoided that day once already since being here!).

So, there we go. Things are different again. And things are similar again. Same/different, that’s how it seems every day in this adventure. Always comparing, always contrasting.


I stole this sign from the Facebook page of my friend, Sir Dave Bittner (he’s not really a Sir – I’ve just kind of given him a substitute knighthood out here in the USA).

Anyway, it’s worth sharing because it is wonderfully American and totally extraordinary.

Just brilliant.

Just brilliant.

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34 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 119

  1. nickpeters says:

    Hey Claire, couldn’t work out which of those US days are actually days off. In Australia public holidays are on a state-by-state basis, here in New South Wales we get:

    Jan 1 – New Years Day
    Jan 26 – Australia Day
    Good Friday
    Easter Monday
    Apr 25 – ANZAC Day
    Second Monday in June – Queen’s Birthday
    First Monday in October – Labour Day
    Dec 25 – Christmas Day
    Dec 26 – Boxing Day

    The four Easter/Christmas days and ANZAC day are restricted retail days, meaning you can’t open up a shop unless it is deemed a ‘small shop’ or has an exemption – it’s like the 1950s!

    When one of the fixed date holidays falls at the weekend, you get the following Monday off instead but not with ANZAC day.

    Of course, the best thing about bank holidays here versus the UK is that you generally get good weather – ANZAC day though well into autumn, was lovely.

  2. Pat and Pam says:

    Your American list is a bit misleading. All of those days are NOT holidays as days off from work. Valentine’s Day is celebrated but not a day off. There are no days off at Easter (which, of course, is a Sunday) — school holidays perhaps about that time are Spring Break not Easter Hols. Mothers’ Day is a Sunday and another day for buying cards, candy, and flowers. Fathers’ Day is trying to make up for Mothers’ Day having been around longer. Halloween is for costumes and candy for children, but not a school hol. Christmas Eve is tricky — depending on when Christmas Day falls, it MIGHT be declared a day off or a half day off work. New Year’s Eve is party time, but New Year’s Day is the official holiday and day off work.

    Sorry to be a bit nit-picky.

    BTW, when I was working here in the UK (for the US Gov) it was BRILL to have BOTH American and Brit holidays. Great times to plan a trip to the Continent or elsewhere.

  3. ThatOtherGuy says:

    For the 4th of July you may want to consider The Mall in DC. It’s a big production but they do a very good job. Bring a blanket and pack some food and drinks and its quite fun. It does get crowded and keep an eye on the weather.

    Also, I used to work tend bar at one of the uh…. “dance bars” and I can tell you that “librarian” is code for something a bit unseemly. Google “librarian night” and you’ll see what I mean. FWIW, my girlfriend was was a dancer there at the time and always made the most money on those nights. Make of that what you will.

  4. ThatOtherGuy says:

    OK. I’ll spill. Basically the ladies dress in plaid skirts, what you would call “plaits” and are essentially doing the school-girl thing. It can be unseemly and some find it downright creepy. YMMV. In order to keep away from that pedo thing they changed it to “librarian” so its all done with a wink and a nod.

  5. ThatOtherGuy says:

    p.s. how are we posting from the future? By my watch its only 2:20 PM and my last post shows 6:18 PM which is 4 hrs from now and I am in HoCo as you are.

  6. Carol says:

    Claire, River Hill do an excellent parade on the morning of July 4 which leaves you plenty of time to get into DC for the afternoon/evening events, especially if you take the metro from Glenmont or Greenbelt. The Marching Lawn Chair Dads at River Hill are the highlight and if you Youtube it, you may see some familiar faces in the line up. Concerts take place at the Capitol building or down on the Mall near the Washington Monument, fireworks, crowds, icecream, take a picnic, lawn chairs/blankets… don’t forget suncream and plenty to drink (for hydration purposes, not to help you get through the evening!)

  7. Thanks for pointing out that Americans get short shifted on vacation time. This subject really lights a fire under my @ss because I get sick of the snarky comments about Americans not travelling abroad and not having passports. (Not you Claire, other people in the past.) The assumption being that we don’t have an interest in going abroad. Codswallop! (I was asked the question about why only 40% of Americans have passports twice on my last trip to England and a Scottish lady just remarked to me about it a month ago when I was in Boston.)

    Most Americans only have two weeks of vacation, not including weekends, it’s actually only 10 working days off. And as a previous commenter pointed out, there is only ONE holiday where almost all Americans have the day off from work and that’s Christmas Day (but even that is changing with more and more things staying open that day.)

    After Americans spend a good bit of that vacation time visiting the relatives they haven’t seen all year because they live hundreds of miles away from them, there’s no time left to go abroad!!!

    But lets say someone does go abroad. We can’t fly to Spain in three hours, it takes all day!!! So two days of that two week vacation are taken up flying to and fro. (Gawd help you if you live on the west coast. It’s probably a two day event each way. Then take one more day away for getting over jet lag otherwise you’re sightseeing in a daze.

    And this is all before we even talk about cost! Wanna know how much we spent back in 2010 on our fortnight’s holiday to England? No? Well I’ll tell you anyway. $8000!!! It cost the three of us $3500 just in flights (booked in the summer because guess what? We are told when we can take our vacation and in our workplace it’s the summer – no choice), then I booked a cheap flat to save money on eating out. Before even landing on English soil I had forked out over $6000!! I can’t imagine how much more it would have been if we had booked a hotel instead.

    Despite appearances, despite misinformation and stereotype, most Americans are not wealthy and $8000 is a helluva lot of money. For many people, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip. The fact is it’s much more expensive for Americans to travel to Europe than it is for Europeans to travel to Europe or America. We can start with the weak dollar as one reason why. Brits get more for their money when they travel to the States.

    Sure some people are xenophobic and have no interest in leaving the country but I met plenty of people in the UK who have never been to London! I had a cabbie tell me in Glasgow that he has lived his whole life in the city and has never left it. Never even been to Loch Katrine or Loch Lomond! And he was proud of it!

    For the most part our lack of foreign travel is for the reasons above, and remember we live in a big @ss country too. Some of us would actually like to see our own country before we die. I’m 45 and have never been to the west coast, yet I’ve been to the UK, Spain, and Germany.

    I appreciate you sticking up for us a bit. It’s good to hear it coming from the other side. Next time someone moans about not having enough bank holidays remind them how lucky there are. It’s a real sore point with me as you can tell. Always meant to write a blog post about it and the stereotype that we’re all xenophobic but have never gotten around to it.

    Mel xx

  8. jacqueline moore says:

    I will second that emotion, SmittenbyBritain, and as I do travel, I want to mention to Claire that when I’m in Europe I do what most Americans who travel do—go to the museums, galleries, historic sites, etc. A lot of Brits who talk about how many countries they’ve been to have spent all their time in those countries sitting by the hotel pool. Unless it is cold, in which case they spend all their time in the barroom of the ski lodge. BTW, I noticed in your friends “caravan” (we would say RV; looks like inside of an Airstream) there is a sign “keep calm and carry on”…and just this morning while shopping for a swimsuit for a 4-year-old girl, there was a tiny Tinkerbell patterned one-piece with the words “Keep Calm and Tinker On”!

  9. Martyn (Brit having a lovely time in Annapolis this spring) says:

    Old joke:
    Q: When do Brits celebrate Thanksgiving?
    A: 4th July

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