In the same way, as there is no country without its national emblems or anthems, there is also no country without a national holiday. A national holiday is usually a non-working day, often recognized by law or determined by custom, and annually observed in remembrance of an event of social importance, or religious significance. In many countries, national holidays are referred to as civic holidays, legal holidays, public holidays, and bank holidays.
The number of national holidays that countries have may vary regarding their frequency and significance. Independence Day, for instance, is often celebrated on the anniversary of colonial independence. For example, the United States of America’s Independence Day is the 4th of July. Independence Day celebrations carry a massive meaning for countries that were under colonizers or imperial supervision for decades. On this day, events are held commemorating the historical, political, and socio-cultural significance of the day, and most times, they engender a sense of patriotism and nationalism rarely demonstrated on other days.
“Holidays—any holiday—are such a great opportunity to focus on bringing the family together.” — Lidia Bastianich
National holidays are also used to mark and remember other significant days such as critical religious dates, workers day, or days set aside to honor fallen heroes in a nation’s military and those who are still actively serving in various arms of the military (e.g., Veteran’s Day). Some of these holidays were days set aside by institutions and nations to honor past patrons of various religions, political leaders, and notable patriots (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr. Day). Most countries have a designated date for holidays of this nature, while some other countries (e.g., Jamaica) have fluctuating dates and times depending on mitigating factors. For instance, August 6, Jamaica’s Independence Day, fell on a Sunday in 2017; thus, it was observed on August 7, a Monday.
The concept and observance of public holidays across the globe is not a new aspect of human existence. Though sewn into the fabric of modern cultural practices, national holidays are not a recent phenomenon, as the observance of special dates and occasions has been an integral part of the human civilization. The word “holiday” stems from the Old English word hāligdæg, with the hālig meaning “holy” and dæg meaning “day.” This word was incipiently only associated with special religious occasions but soon evolved to cover political, historical, and cultural days as well.
“Our many different cultures notwithstanding, there’s something about the holidays that makes the planet communal. Even nations that do not celebrate Christmas can’t help but be caught up in the collective spirit of their neighbors, as twinkling lights dot the landscape and carols fill the air. It’s an inspiring time of the year.” — Marlo Thomas
The oldest national holidays are those involving seasons and celestial bodies and were celebrated with many festivities taking place, sometimes lasting for weeks. The Indo-Persian festival Nowruz, which dates back to 3,000 years ago, is regarded by many historians as the oldest national holiday event in the world. Observed on March 21 every year, it’s a holy day in the Zoroastrian religion and is celebrated worldwide by various ethnolinguistic communities across as the beginning of the New Year. Nowruz is officially recognized as New Year Day in Iran.
Nepal, with a total of 36 national holidays, is the country with the most national holidays in the world, although some of these holidays are mostly regional and religious. Cambodia is a distant second with 28, Sri Lanka, at third place, has 25, and is closely followed by India in fourth place with 21 national holidays. Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, and the Philippines all have 18, while China has 17 national holidays. Sweden, with 15 days, is the European country that has the most national holidays. Nigeria has 12, while the United States of America has 10. Mexico is the country that has the least number of national holidays with 7, although the government allows for its citizens to celebrate arbitrary holidays at their discretion.
“I always believe holidays strengthen the family bond, away from our hectic daily schedules.” — Chiranjeevi
In 2011 the addition of two provisional holidays cost the British economy £30 billion and sparked the introduction of a bill by members of parliament intended to scrap certain national holidays and merge others to reduce the adverse effects on the British economy. However, this was only a one-off incident because national holidays in the United Kingdom remain a major attraction for tourists, with Britain being ranked the world’s 8th most significant global tourist destination—rating boosted mainly by the visits of 36.115 million tourists in 2015.
In many developing countries, tourism is the most significant contributor to their economy, and national holidays provide a convenient time for tourists and foreigners to experience and explore the local culture. Even for the locals, national holidays offer an avenue for shopping, mass sales, feasting, and relaxation. Whether secular or religious, national holidays improve social engagement, promote a sense of cultural heritage. It fosters economic activity and reminds the citizenry of the values and historical significance of dates. More than anything, what national holidays do is ensure the preservation of identity in the face of globalization.
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