Though most people may be able to identify a handful of holidays and show a general understanding of what makes them significant, far fewer have a firm grasp on the extent of the origins or traditions associated with many of the days we have come to deem noteworthy on our calendars.
From a historical perspective, the concept of a holiday, in general, was originally associated exclusively with religious celebrations or observations. The term holiday itself originates from the Old English term haligdæg, which translates literally to “holy day” (halig, meaning holy, and dæg meaning day). The idea was that a holiday would essentially be a day of rest during which one could focus solely on religious duties, practices, or rituals. Over time, however, the term took on a looser connotation to become associated more generally with days that deviated or broke from regular routines to recognize or celebrate a particular day, event, or period of noteworthy importance.
Today's holidays are significant for a myriad of reasons. There are, of course, holidays that hew to the original translation of the term in that they draw their importance from religious traditions or faith-driven values (e.g.Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan). However, beyond that, there are also popular holidays that commemorate political events or anniversaries (e.g. the Fourth of July in the United States, Bastille Day in France), celebrate ethnic or cultural pride and histories (e.g. St. Patrick’s Day); and recognize particular communities, community members, or social values (e.g. Mother’s Day).
As the scope of what makes a holiday has shifted over time, the rise in official days dedicated to the commemoration of specific individuals, groups, and critical moments in history has followed. Across the United States, this has translated into a number of state-specific holidays and celebrations to commemorate significant pieces of each state’s past. Stacker sifted through various state histories and sources to explore some less familiar, but still significant, region-specific holidays celebrated across the 50 states.
Read on to find out how your state celebrates a unique holiday.
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- Day celebrated: second Monday in October
Fraternal Day is meant to honor the work of the Alabama Legislature, fraternal organizations (Masons, for example), and veterans’ groups. Dating back to 1915, the holiday originally was celebrated on the second Thursday of October before being moved to coincide with Columbus Day.
- Day celebrated: last Monday in March
Seward’s Day is dedicated to the United States’ purchase of Alaska from Czarist Russia in 1867. The day gets its name from former Secretary of State William H. Seward, who negotiated the purchase for $7.2 million.
- Day celebrated: February
First held in 1984, the Arizona Matsuri is an annual festival celebrating Japanese culture and heritage. The two-day, family-friendly event is held in Downtown Phoenix every year and features different exhibits, demonstrations, crafts, games, contests, and live entertainment. Attendees may also partake of Japanese food, as well as a beer and sake garden.
- Day celebrated: third Monday in February
To commemorate the life and work of civil rights activist Daisy Gatson Bates, Arkansas celebrates Daisy Gatson Bates Day, which falls on the same day as President’s Day every year. Bates’ advocacy paved the way for the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
- Day celebrated: March 31
César Chávez Day commemorates the birthday of civil rights activist and American labor leader César Estrada Chávez. Many of the causes for which Chávez advocated—workers’ rights, pension benefits, medical coverage, and fair wages—remain important issues today, and the annual commemoration of Chávez’s work often encourages communities, leaders, and the media to engage in discussions around these topics. While California is the only state where César Chávez Day is an official state holiday, a number of other states, like Colorado and Texas, consider it an optional or commemorative holiday.
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- Day celebrated: second weekend of March
The annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival is held in Nederland, Colorado, to celebrate one of the town’s unique inhabitants: a cryogenically preserved gentleman by the name of Bredo Morstøl. Each year, Nederland residents and visitors gather for three days of freezing-cold fun, including live music, coffin racing, costumed polar plunging, and frozen T-shirt contests.
- Day celebrated: early June
Featuring performers from across the United States and around the world, Connecticut’s annual Sea Music Festival celebrates the music of the sea. Each year, the event showcases contemporary compositions, maritime work songs performed aboard historic vessels, and children’s performances. The festival also offers special workshops and hands-on activities for everyone.
- Day celebrated: second day after general election
Held two days after Election Day every two years, Return Day started in the late 18th century. The festival refers to how Sussex County residents in Delaware would travel to Georgetown to cast their votes and then have to return two days later to learn the results of state and national elections. While the need for Return Day disappeared with the rise of technology, the annual festival in Georgetown remains, and still has some of the original traditions, like a carriage parade, an ox roast, and a ceremonial burying of a hatchet.
- Day celebrated: April 2
Pascua Florida Day commemorates the anniversary of Florida’s discovery in 1512 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, who was on the hunt for gold and the fountain of youth. Named after the Spanish Feast of Flowers around Easter (and León’s original name for Florida), Pascua Florida Day is Florida’s state day.
- Day celebrated: early May
The largest free outdoor festival in the Southeast, Georgia’s Sweet Auburn Springfest celebrates the prominence of Auburn Avenue and the historic blocks that house the Ebenezer Baptist Church where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor, and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. Every year, the festival features live music, rides for kids, art and jewelry vendors, and food vendors.
- Day celebrated: June 11
King Kamehameha Day is a public holiday that celebrates the life of Kamehameha the Great, the monarch who ended years of conflict when he united the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom in 1810. One of the most significant events associated with the holiday is the King Kamehameha Statue Lei Draping Ceremony, which takes place at Aliʻiolani Hale in downtown Honolulu and features hundreds of feet of a flower lei being draped onto a 15-foot statue of Kamehameha.
- Day celebrated: third Monday in January
Celebrated alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Day every year, the holiday spotlights human rights and embracing diversity. It is often celebrated with music, speeches, and tributes to human rights activists, and there are art exhibits, rallies, poetry readings, and candlelight parades. The day was created on Jan. 16, 2006, by former Idaho governor and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne.
- Day celebrated: first Monday in March
Casimir Pulaski was a Polish general who fought for the United States during the American Revolution and has been an honorary citizen since 2009. On March 2, 1986, Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson signed a bill making Casimir Pulaski Day a state holiday, though it instantly drew some opposition from lawmakers who thought Pulaski would be best celebrated with a simpler commemorative holiday rather than a legal one.
- Day celebrated: first Tuesday after the first Monday in May
This is simply the day of Indiana’s primary elections. Primary Election Day is recognized as a state holiday and state government offices are closed.
- Day celebrated: mid-August
Though the annual Meskwaki Powwow was originally based partly on the religious beliefs and practices of the Meskwaki Tribe, the festival now takes on a mostly secular nature with a focus on social gathering. Today’s Meskwaki Powwow draws influence from the “Green Corn Dance,” which marked harvest season, and other early social traditions of the tribe.
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- Day celebrated: late May or early June
A nine-day affair, the Wichita Riverfest first took place in 1971 with the goal of bringing the community together during Wichita's Centennial. Today, the festival is one of the largest and longest-running ones in the region. While some of the festival’s traditional activities, such as bathtub racing and maypole winding, have been retired over the years, nowadays there often are fireworks, the Riverfest Parade, the River Run, and hot air balloons.
- Day celebrated: January 13
Each year, Kentucky recognizes Franklin D. Roosevelt Day as a state holiday. Though Kentucky generally leans Republican, Roosevelt, a Democrat, carried the state in all four of his successful bids for president. He also had the Pioneer Memorial—a monument to recognize Kentucky for its significant role in the expansion of the United States—erected in Harrodsburg in 1934.
- Day celebrated: two weeks and one day before Ash Wednesday
With origins in medieval Europe, Mardi Gras made its way to the United States via French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville and his men, who celebrated America’s first Mardi Gras in 1703. By the mid-18th century (and after Bienville established New Orleans in 1718) Mardi Gras celebrations consisted of elegant society balls. It wasn’t until the 1830s that Mardi Gras took on the carnivalesque festivities that we now know, including parade processions with elaborate floats, people in masks, horseback riders, and more. Today, Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana and has been ever since Gov. Henry C. Warmoth signed the Mardi Gras Act in 1875.
- Day celebrated: third Monday in April
Like Patriots’ Day, which is celebrated in several states including Massachusetts, Patriot’s Day in Maine is more or less the same holiday, but with an odd change in punctuation. Though it’s unclear why Maine went for the singular possessive as opposed to the plural, the state is at least consistent with others in the reason behind the holiday, which is to commemorate the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, including the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Menotomy. Maine has celebrated Patriot’s Day since 1907.
- Day celebrated: September 12
Defenders Day celebrates the successful defense of Baltimore from invading British troops during the War of 1812. The battle, which unfolded over the course of three days in 1814, inspired a poem that was later set to music and became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
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- Day celebrated: March 17
Evacuation Day commemorates the departure of British troops from New York City on Nov. 25, 1783, after the American Revolutionary War. The day marked the end of a seven-year occupation by the British, who had used the city as their North American headquarters during the course of the war.
- Day celebrated: October 30
Celebrated the night before Halloween, Devil’s Night is essentially what several other states in the country might know as Mischief Night, a night of trickery and pranks, like toilet-papering a tree in someone’s front yard or ringing doorbells and fleeing. However, Devil’s Night, which dates back to the 1940s, saw some notoriety in the 1970s when pranks escalated into crimes, including arson and vandalism in some places. In Detroit in 1995, city officials created Angels’ Night, during which volunteers patrolled neighborhoods. Since then, Devil’s Night-related crime and arson in the city have declined.
- Day celebrated: late January to early February
Meant to be a celebration of winter, the annual St. Paul Winter Carnival is the oldest winter festival in the United States. The celebration started in 1886 as a way for winter enthusiasts in Minnesota to celebrate the season. Each year, St. Paul’s Winter Carnival features an array of activities, including ice sculpture displays and competitions, craft markets, parades, live entertainment, and more.
- Day celebrated: last Monday in May
Before the Civil War and his term as president of the Confederate States between 1861 to 1865, Jefferson Davis represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Today, Mississippi recognizes Davis’ birthday as an official holiday, and though other states like Florida do as well, Mississippi is the only state to observe the holiday on Memorial Day instead of Davis’ actual birthday, June 3.
- Day celebrated: May 8
Truman Day honors the life and legacy of Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. president, and the only president in the nation’s history to hail from Missouri. Though the holiday is generally celebrated on May 8, which was Truman’s birthday, its date moves to the nearest weekday if May 8 falls on a weekend.
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- Day celebrated: end of July
Started in 2011, the Red Ants Pants Festival is an annual music festival put together by the Red Ants Pants Foundation, a nonprofit focused on women’s empowerment and leadership, along with working family farms, ranches, and rural communities. Each year, proceeds from the festival go to supporting efforts like leadership programs for women, as well as funding grants. Run largely with the help of volunteers, the Red Ants Pants Festival was named Event of the Year by the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development in 2018.
- Day celebrated: last Friday in April
While Arbor Day has become a more widely recognized holiday, Nebraska was the first state to celebrate it back in April 1872. Before that, Nebraska was known for its treeless prairie landscape. However, J. Sterling Morton, who was vice president of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture at the time, suggested having a day dedicated to tree planting to encourage better use of the land. After his resolution was approved, the state celebrated its first Arbor Day and reportedly saw the planting of over 1 million trees in 1872 alone.
- Day celebrated: last Friday in October
Nevada Day commemorates the admission of Nevada into the Union on Oct. 31, 1864. While observations of the holiday occurred as early as the 1870s, it wasn’t until 1933 that Nevada Day was recognized as an official state holiday. Today, the anniversary of Nevada’s entry into the Union is marked by events like a carnival and a parade in the downtown of Nevada’s capital, Carson City.
- Day celebrated: third Monday in January
Civil Rights Day celebrates the work and lives of significant civil rights activists from history. The first Civil Rights Day took place in New Hampshire in 1991 and was celebrated in conjunction with Martin Luther King Day. Civil Rights Day is also recognized as an official state holiday in Arizona, where it was observed for the first time in 1993.
[Pictured: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on.]
- Day celebrated: October 30
Like Devil’s Night in Michigan, Mischief Night in New Jersey (and some neighboring regions in Delaware and Pennsylvania) is the name given to the evening before Halloween when pranksters run amok. Though the origins of the prank-riddled precursor to Halloween are unclear, it’s suggested that the notion of the night as a Halloween-related tradition started in the 1930s.
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- Day celebrated: second Friday of March
While Nebraska may have been the first state to observe Arbor Day, the tree-centric holiday is one that spread beyond the Midwestern region. In New Mexico, Arbor Day is celebrated in March to coincide with the state’s prime planting season.
- Day celebrated: second Sunday in June
A day intended to commemorate the adoption of the United States flag on June 14, 1777, Flag Day is celebrated across the United States, though it is not recognized as an official federal holiday. New York, however, is known for one of the longest-running (and, originally, one of the largest) Flag Day parades, which has been hosted by the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York Inc. since 1916. The annual parade begins at City Hall and ends at Fraunces Tavern Museum, where a celebratory ceremony takes place beneath a four-story U.S. flag that hangs on the front of the museum.
- Day celebrated: March 25
Greek Independence Day is a legal public holiday in North Carolina, along with other states across the country where Greeks have made their homes, including Massachusetts and New York. The day commemorates Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821 after nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule.
- Day celebrated: second weekend of September
The United Tribes International Powwow is an annual gathering dedicated to the cultural celebration and sharing of values and traditions across generations of Native Americans. Each year, the celebration features group singing and dancing by members of the community, as well as performance contests where singers and dancers compete for monetary prizes. Displays and the vending of handmade crafts and goods also are featured.
- Day celebrated: end of June
Ohio has more than 1,800 festivals, including America’s longest-running culinary arts festival (Taste of Cincinnati) and the oldest choral music festival (Cincinnati May Festival). The Tri-C Jazz Fest, which dates back to 1980, is one of Ohio’s most notable music festivals and is dedicated to the celebration of the history and future of jazz. Taking place in Cleveland each year, the Tri-C Jazz Fest occurs over three days and features performances, as well as educational opportunities and outreach programming, meant to spread jazz throughout the community.
- Day celebrated: beginning of or mid-May
Tulsa International Mayfest is all about bringing art to the city. Every year since 1973, Mayfest has transformed downtown Tulsa into a bustling scene of art showcases, live music, and food vendors with the goal of promoting a deeper knowledge of the arts and humanities in the community.
- Day celebrated: mid-May to mid-June
Dating back to 1906, the Rose Festival was started in Portland as a way to put the city on the map and earn it recognition as the “summer capital of the world.” Today, the festival attracts over one million attendees each year and has become largely about celebrating the city’s strong values, including volunteerism and environmentalism, and spotlighting the community’s diversity. Among the most notable Rose Festival traditions is the Grand Floral Parade, one of the largest all-floral parades in the United States (second only to the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day).
- Day celebrated: June 14
Flag Day in Pennsylvania, like in New York, is the day meant to commemorate adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777, by the Continental Congress. And while New York’s Flag Day celebrations are notable for being some of the largest in the country, Pennsylvania was the first state in the country to make Flag Day a legal holiday in 1937.
- Day celebrated: May 4
Rhode Island Independence Day commemorates Rhode Island’s declaration of independence from Great Britain on May 4, 1776. Of the original 13 colonies, Rhode Island was actually the first to officially break ties with King George III and gain its independence.
- Day celebrated: June 28
Every year on June 28 since 1777, South Carolina remembers one of the first significant military victories in our young nation’s history: a battle in 1776 that took place on Sullivan’s Island and marked one of the earliest successes in the original 13 colonies’ fight for independence from Great Britain.
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- Day celebrated: second Monday in October
Native American’s Day is dedicated to honoring Native American communities and their contributions to American history. While the day is recognized and celebrated in lieu of Columbus Day across several states, South Dakota was the first state to officially observe the holiday in 1990, which then-Gov. George S. Mickelson also declared as the Year of Reconciliation.
- Day celebrated: end of September
John Sevier Living History Day honors the life and leadership of Tennessee’s first governor. The event features an array of 18th-century inspired demonstrations, including open-hearth cooking, weaving, blacksmithing, and weapons and craft demonstrations. The day is meant to bring pieces of history to life for the community.
- Day celebrated: April 21
San Jacinto Day commemorates the final battle of the Texas Revolution, the Battle of San Jacinto, which took place on April 21, 1836, and gained Texas its independence from Mexico. A day of state pride for Texans, San Jacinto Day was first celebrated in 1839 and is celebrated annually with a festival and a re-enactment at the battle site. In 2019, San Jacinto Day festivities were canceled in the aftermath of a chemical fire and spill at a nearby Intercontinental Terminals Co. tank farm.
- Day celebrated: July 24
Pioneer Day is celebrated every year in commemoration of Brigham Young and the first group of Mormon pioneers to arrive and settle in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. The settlers were forced west because of religious persecution in some eastern parts of the United States and ultimately settled in Utah because of the region’s relative emptiness, which the Mormon settlers found to be welcoming. Today, Pioneer Day celebrations include a variety of activities, including re-enactments, parades, rodeos, picnics, and fireworks.
- Day celebrated: August 16
Bennington Battle Day commemorates the 1777 American victory over the British at the Battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War. The main celebration takes place at the battle location, and traditions around the holiday include a battle reenactment and honorary tributes to fallen soldiers.
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- Day celebrated: Friday preceding Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Lee-Jackson Day celebrates the birthdays of two of the most well-known Confederate generals: Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Originally, the holiday started in 1889 as a celebration of Lee’s birthday, but Jackson was added to the holiday in 1904. Today, Lee-Jackson Day includes parades and celebrations in some parts of the state, while other areas, including the state capital of Richmond, abstain from celebrating.
- Day celebrated: day after Thanksgiving Day
Ever since the signing in 2008 by President George W. Bush of a congressional joint resolution, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been recognized officially as Native American Heritage Day. While the idea behind the holiday is to celebrate Native Americans’ rich history and their contributions to the country, some have complained that the day’s overlap with capitalism-centric Black Friday is in poor taste.
- Day celebrated: June 20
West Virginia Day marks the anniversary of West Virginia’s admission into the Union on June 20, 1863. West Virginia is the only state that gained its sovereignty through an official presidential proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln issued on April 20, 1863.
- Day celebrated: June 19
Juneteenth Day is the annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. The holiday’s name alludes to the announcement by Union soldiers on June 19, 1865, in Texas that the Civil War was over and all those enslaved were now free. Festivities associated with the day celebrate freedom but also encourage education and continuous growth and advancement.
- Day celebrated: third Monday in January
Another instance of compounded holidays, Wyoming Equality Day coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and focuses on commemorating social justice and civil rights. Harriet Elizabeth Byrd, who was the first black woman to serve in Wyoming’s House and later the first black person to serve in the state Senate, had pushed nine times for Martin Luther King Jr. Day to become a state holiday to no avail. It wasn’t until Byrd reached a compromise with other Wyoming lawmakers to add “Equality Day” to the holiday’s title that the bill passed to recognize the day as a state holiday in 1990.
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