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Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

What people in the United States call bank holidays are also called federal holidays, public holidays and legal holidays. Bank holidays are normal business days where the doors to financial institutions are closed because Federal Reserve Bank employees take the day off. The practice has been extended to mean if the actual holiday falls on a weekend, banks will close the Friday before or the Monday after to create a three-day weekend for people who work Monday to Friday. Employees not only get the day off, but with pay, too, and they value paid holidays as an important incentive. Because so many people bank online and use ATMs, bank holidays make little difference in most customers’ banking lives.

Days off with pay

Five years after the Civil War ended, the U.S. Congress enacted a law that gave federal employees in the District of Columbia four days off with pay: New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. In 1880, Congress added George Washington’s Birthday and soon after, extended these paid holidays to all federal employees everywhere.  

The 2023 USA calendar shows 10 bank holidays. How many can you name?

Everybody gets Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, although not everyone knows its proper name is Independence Day. Some get Labor Day, Memorial Day, President’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Only a few get Columbus Day or Veteran’s Day.

One holiday and two celebrations a year

For thousands of years, European life revolved around the farm and the climate. People celebrated two seasons: the coming of spring (time to plant) and the coming of fall (time to harvest). The only holy day observed by most people in Europe was Christmas, when all banks and most businesses would be closed. 

Holiday bloat

By the 1800s, the Bank of England was observing three dozen religious festivals a year. In 1834, they’d had enough of employees taking so many paid days off from work and slashed the number to four: May Day, All Saints Day, Good Friday, Christmas Day. 

Paid holidays around the world

Wikipedia says Nepal has 34 paid holidays, the most in the world. Mexico and Ecuador have the least, at eight. Antigua and Barbuda celebrate National Heroes Day, Belarus celebrates Radonitsa, Canada has Victoria Day, Zimbabwe has Robert Gabriel Mugabe National Youth Day and so on.

Vote for me!

Sir John Lubbock, the 1st Baron Avebury, 4th Baronet PC, DL, FRS, FRAI, inherited a bank from his father at the age of 14 and quit school to run the business while also contributing to the fields of archaeology (he coined the terms Paleolithic and Neolithic to describe the Old and New Stone Ages) and biology (he assisted family friend Charles Darwin by examining and illustrating barnacles).

The Baron campaigned for office in 1870 on a Liberal Party platform that featured more paid holidays for the working classes

Easily elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, he drafted the Bank Holiday Bill. In 1871, it became the law that added Easter Monday, Whit Monday, Boxing Day and the first Monday in August to the two public holidays that already existed (Good Friday and Christmas Day).

Whit Monday?

Whit Monday is observed the day after Pentecost Sunday, 51 days after Easter Sunday. Worshippers celebrate the New Testament descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples of Jesus Christ. Just after the Civil War, Whit Monday came to be known by some in the USA as the “Dutch Fourth of July,” a reference to a day of eating, drinking and merrymaking.

Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas, a custom initiated by the wealthy. Servants worked on Christmas Day, of course, and their masters and mistresses would allow them to take the next day off to spend with their families. On the 26th, servants were given boxes with feast leftovers to take home – and possibly a few coins. Over time it became a day for those without servants to give Christmas gifts to tradespeople and the needy. Today Boxing Day mostly means shopping extravaganzas and big-time sporting events.

Bank panic

Many people believe the Great Depression harmed only stock investors, but between 1929 and 1932, more than 5,000 U.S. banks went out of business and depositors lined up to withdraw their money. People panicked as families lost their life savings overnight. Just days after taking the oath of office, President Franklin Roosevelt declared a week-long bank holiday and closed all banks from March 6th to March 10th.

Fireside chats

The next week, in his first Fireside Chat, the president thanked the public for their fortitude and good temper during the “banking holiday” and said “I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done and what the next steps are going to be.” The name fireside chat was given by CBS reporter Harry Butcher and was quickly adopted by all because it perfectly evoked FDR’s comforting intent, informal style and conversational tone.

Roosevelt did not sermonize or make speeches

Instead, he spoke calmly and as if he were visiting with listeners while sitting in their living rooms. He made a point of using the simplest possible language so he would be clearly understood by the largest number of Americans. He calmed their fears and the panic ended.

Bonus

Lubbock, Texas is in the heart of what was once called Comanche country. It was not named after Sir John of long-forgotten holiday fame, but after Thomas Lubbock, a Texas Ranger and Confederate cavalry officer. Thomas’ brother Francis was governor of the Confederate state of Texas during the Civil War. Today Lubbock is the home of Texas Tech University and Prairie Dog Town. 

Double bonus

The Lubbock Lights are considered by UFO fans to be one of the first great alien sightings. Upon examining the photographs, the United States Air Force concluded the images were probably not spaceships.

Want to look at old things in new ways, see the commonplace in more detail and hear complex subject matter explained in simple terms?

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