As far as I understand, public holidays were originally a way of letting workers rest during the year, as well as celebrating major religious events. Nowadays workers are usually entitled to a few weeks of vacation (not to mention the 8 hour work days and rest during weekends), so having a public holiday is a lot less important for them. Likewise religion plays a much smaller role and Christmas is usually equivalent to a shopping festival in Western countries.

So what's the purpose of keeping the public holidays? Are there countries which plan to reduce their number or remove them completely?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 11:24

9 Answers 9

  1. Holidays allow people to consolidate gathering plans. In the US, two important holidays are Memorial Day and Labor Day. These, more or less, mark the start and end of summer. As such, travel and vacations are often planned around these dates.
  2. Holidays represent times when children will be free as well. Most major countries have compulsory school attendance. Holidays represent government closure, and thus schools are closed as well. Since the parents tend to be off, they can plan things for those days.
  3. Holidays are popular. No politician will touch an established holiday, especially since they are typically paid days off for many workers.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 12:40
  • @Machavity something worth adding might be the well-being of employees and the increased productivity generally associated with time off. Commented May 10, 2017 at 14:16
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    @Sh4d0wsPlyr The benefits of time off also come with the weeks of vacation time mentioned in the question. The question is looking more for reasons for holidays that aren't duplicated by regular vacation time and weekends.
    – 8bittree
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:17
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    @8bittree Which is fine, except there is enough studies to show that there is some evidence that increased time-off (excluding weekends, vacations) may be more beneficial. That is more what I was referring to, and that it may benefit the answer slightly. Commented May 10, 2017 at 17:56

It seems a little odd that no-one has mentioned the well-known sociological concept of "civil religion".

Many public days of rest have religious roots. In many societies, the state has decided together with the religious authority - or authorities! - to explicitly recognize or actively promote the religious feelings of the population by making festivals part of the civic calendar.

In many, sometimes the same societies, the state actively creates secular or not so secular festivities that don't obviously stem from clearly-defined religions per se but appear to have some of the same kind of characteristics.

So, for instance, it's been obvserved that the USA has the purportedly secular Thanksgiving which has many similarities to (pre-)Christian harvest festivals, and also celebrates a "civic" tradition (origin myth?) that the state wants to promote.

In most cases the interplay of state and religious authority is pretty complex and there's some give and take.

Arguably, Christianity gradually introduced the distinction, separation and ultimately cooperation of religious and civil authorities (that had been more or less united since prehistoric times) and "demythologized" the state.

Post-Christian societies, and secular societies generally face the conundrum of legitimizing their established order by some outside principle while not being too obvious about the need for metaphysics or reference to unacceptable elements of their founding history.

So - to finally answer your question: keeping some holidays is a relatively uncomplicated and obviously beneficial way to keep the community spirit while not going into too much detail as to what specifically is endorsed or commemorated officially.


You seem to assume everyone has jobs where they can take days off whenever they feel like. That might be the case for you, and it's great and all. However, many people cannot chose when they take their holidays. For instance

  • Children and students
  • Teachers
  • People doing educational work related to school
  • Parents of children or husbands/wives of people with jobs I mentioned will often want to take holidays or days off in sync with their family

This represent a huge amount of people (probably at last half of the population) who can't choose when they get their days off, and as such, public days off is the only way they can enjoy longer weekends a couple of times a year.

  • But that would only explain why you would have public holidays where those holidays were uniformly respected - what if they aren't? In the UK public holidays have almost no legal force and certainly don't require anyone to be given leave (or indeed for schools to close). Commented May 9, 2017 at 16:11
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    @FrancisDavey No holiday stateside had any legal enforcement to keep employers from requiring work, but there is enough cultural momentum to that it's hard to fight. For skilled work, taking away Christmas would be a non-starter, as would not giving any other holidays (you'd lose your workforce!). Unfortunately for unskilled labour, the labour pool isn't as limited so they don't get quite the same benefits. That said, big retailers like Walmart usually face public backlash (boycotting, bad publicity) of they try and take away certain untouchable holidays.
    – Sidney
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 16:36
  • But schools usually have much longer holidays anyway: summer is obvious, Christmas break usually lasts for a couple of weeks, other holidays sometimes stretch into a week of no school. Public holidays are correlated, but not strictly speaking necessary for a break. Commented May 9, 2017 at 17:21
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    @Sidney That's not a fair comparison. You can't just tell someone "you'll have 10 fewer days out of work" and expect them to go with it - you're basically stealing their money. A more reasonable comparison would be "20 days of vacation, 10 days of public holidays" versus "30 days of vacation". Would people really prefer the former? The cost is the same for the employer in either case (indeed, people might accept fewer days of vaction just for the option of taking them whenever they want).
    – Luaan
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 12:13
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    @Luann actually not advocating that, I'm saying that currently (at least in the states) there is no enforced legal recognition of holidays as far as private employers are concerned. That said, this is one of the times when the free market and competition actually have resulted in better situations for the working class.
    – Sidney
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 12:33

As to your comment, having a day off is an eminently practical reason (probably depends on your point of view).

As to your (second) question, Germany has repeatedly reduced the number of holidays. An example for a religious holiday that's now gone is "Buß-und Bettag", the "day of repentance"). Also the number of holidays was different to start with between federal states (Bavaria has 14 per year, Berlin has 9). Apparently France has removed Pentecost Monday as a holiday, in Germany this has at least been discussed (along with removing the second Christmas holiday). In some areas in Germany Catholics can get dispensation from work for Corpus Christi (in other states it is a statewide holiday).

However Germany (can't really speak for other countries) is proud of its Christian tradition, so removing any of the major holidays will meet resistance by the churches (also retail - for you Christmas may be "just a shopping festival", for them it's a big part of their yearly revenue).

I do not know of any country that plans to remove religious holidays completely, but some atheist/laizist groups have called to abandon them (although their usually suggest to have secular holidays instead).

Finally not all holidays are religious - International Workers' Day comes to mind, or Independence day in the USA, or basically anything that commemorates historic events.

  • 1
    Actually, the situation of Pentecote Monday in France is a little bit special: it was removed in 2004 to make it an "unpaid workday in solidarity for the elderly", the salary of workers being transferred to the Caisse Nationale d'Autonomie (National Fund for Autonomy). People were really unhappy about it, and protested vehemently. The Pentecote Monday became a national holiday in 2008 and the employers has been given some flexibility on how to pay a contribution equivalent to a day of work to the Caisse Nationale d'Autonomie.
    – Taladris
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 0:28
  • For a source: leparisien.fr/economie/emploi/… [in French] or wikiwand.com/en/… [in English]
    – Taladris
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 0:32

In addition to the other valid reasons that have been posted (e.g. parents and children getting work/school holidays on same days), in some countries there are laws governing pay rates on holidays.

E.g. in Australia, certain industries have industry-wide legally enforced pay deals that mean workers get paid an increase rate on public holidays.

When the Australian government tried to make Christmas Day not be a public holiday last year (since it fell on a Sunday) this would have resulted in some people being paid less for working that day.

While the religious importance of various holidays may be declining, they still have cultural importance. E.g. many non-Christians still value Christmas as a time to spend with family rather than working. There also exist non-religious holidays for cultural importance (e.g. Anzac day in Australia).


Because every religious holiday is now commercialized. Retailers will run with whatever the holiday theme is, and use it as a way to drive revenue much higher than without the holiday theme. Even if its seemingly unrelated i.e. "EASTER MONDAY SALE AT TOYOTA!!!"

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    I don't think that's why we still have holidays.Remove the commercial angle, and we'd still have holidays Commented May 10, 2017 at 8:02
  • It certainly is an incentive for governments to continue giving us holidays in modern times (as the original question asked for). Commented May 10, 2017 at 15:15

What is the purpose behind public holidays in modern times?

Ever since the productive forces released by the scientific and technological revolution were envisaged people have been talking about a working year that was more people orientated. So instead of fewer public holidays they expected more public holidays and a shorter working week.

In fact, in this article by The Harvard Business Review they advocate a four day working week, saying typically, that "there's some evidence that it is good for business" (whereas it should be good for human flourishing is the right argument). They also point out that France around twenty years ago implemented a thirty five hour week, which taking the average working day as eight hours makes their working week just over four days - and they're not doing that badly.

Although public holidays are associated with religious holidays, like Christmas or Easter, or with national symbolism such as Thanksgiving or Independence Day, the actual effect of them is to gear the economy towards people rather than the other way around.


Consumerism! China just announced that the Chinese people has spent a couple of billions of dollars (about 4 if I remember correctly) just on transport in 3 days of national holidays.

Also in Japan if a holiday is on Sunday - is celebrated Monday.

  • Can you develop your answer a bit more? You make a couple of relevant comments, but don't really back up your answer with reasoning or sources. Commented May 11, 2017 at 9:59

Answer is really simple: a government spend money and energies to solve a problem that does exists in reality.

It's not a matter of politics at all. Simply there is no point and no gain to abolish the 4th of July (try to go in the streets and ask people what they think about that), the 14th of July (go ask this, too), the 1st of May, a few hundreds other public civil holidays, and the few days of religious holidays in countries where religion DOES NOT play a much smaller role but it's an important part of everyday life -and I'm not religious, still I have respect for other peoples and I don't downplay their beliefs just because they are not mine.

People are happy this way and feel no needs to change[1], the question is just biased: what you are really asking is why the world do not act accordingly to the way you thing it should.

1 apart some extreme cases like working in an European facility where you have to go on holiday on most damn national holidays of most all the 28 member nations...been there, done that.

  • There's no need to criticize the question asker in your answer! Many questions can be explained away as "what you are really asking is why the world do not act according to the way you think it should." Isn't that the point of questions on a Q&A site? Commented May 11, 2017 at 9:57
  • @EleventhDoctor there is a general trend, on the entire SE network, to keep the question quality to an high level. Read again the question and the comments from the OP, basically this question is "I don't like bananas, why the governments have done nothing yet to prohibit them?". When you are asking why someone do nothing to solve a problem that exists only for you while everybody else is happy the way the things are, the question is just a rant and would be closed on 99% of the rest of the network sites apart from, maybe, Philosophy.SE
    – motoDrizzt
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 14:34
  • Your commitment to quality is admirable! The usual ways to criticize questions on the SE network are downvoting or flagging them, rather than writing critical answers, however. Commented May 11, 2017 at 17:16

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