Cultural & Religious Observances

Please note that this list is a work in progress. Check back for updates and additions

New Year’s Day
Jan. 1
The first day of the modern Gregorian calendar is a federal holiday and probably one of the most celebrated holidays in the world.

Three Kings Day
Jan. 6
Also called Dia de los Reyes, Epiphany, Feast of Kings, Twelfth Day, Twelfthtide, and Day of the Three Wise Men, this major Christian festival is observed in many parts of the world with gifts, feasting, last lighting of the Christmas lights, and burning of Christmas greens. It marks the 12th and last day of the Feast of the Nativity, and commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men (Kings of Magi) to Bethlehem. Three Kings Day is one of the oldest Christian feasts, originating in the Eastern Church in the second century, and predates the Western feast of Christmas. It was adopted by the Western Church during the same period in which the Eastern Church accepted Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas Day
Jan. 7
Eastern Orthodox Churches, which use the Julian calendar to determine feast days, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 of the Gregorian calendar.

Korean American Day
Jan. 13
A number of U.S. states have declared this day as Korean American Day in order to recognize Korean Americans’ impact and contributions.

Martin Luther King Day
Jan. 16, 2017
The birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., often called Martin Luther King Day, is a U.S. holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., black civil rights leader, minister, advocate of nonviolence, and 1964 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. It is observed on the third Monday in January each year, around the time of the anniversary of Dr. King’s birthday, Jan. 15.

Asian Lunar New Year
Jan. 28, 2017
Asian Lunar New Year is typically observed between Jan. 21 and Feb. 19; it is a public holiday in a number of countries and areas where a sizeable Asian population resides. It is the principal holiday in Asian calendars and falls on different dates and different days of the week on the Gregorian calendar every year. New Year season begins with the first new moon after the sun enters Aquarius and lasts for 15 days. The first week is the most important and is often celebrated with visits to friends and family as well as greetings of good luck. The highlight of the season is the Dragon Parade, which is thought to dispel evil spirits.

Ash Wednesday
March 1, 2017
In the Western Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It occurs 46 days before Easter—though Lent is considered 40 days long, because Sundays in this period are not counted among the days of Lent. It falls on different dates from year to year, according to the date of Easter, and can occur as early as Feb. 4 or as late as March 10. Worshippers are blessed by a priest or minister with ashes placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross. Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting and repentance.

Parinirvana  Day 
Feb. 15
This Mahayana Buddhist festival—called Nirvana Day by Pure Land Buddhists—marks the anniversary of Buddha’s death. Parinirvana is celebrated by some Buddhists on Feb. 8.

Presidents’ Day 
Feb. 20, 2017
Maryland and about a dozen other states officially observe the third Monday of February as Presidents’ Day, which is officially Washington’s Birthday on the federal holiday calendar. Presidents’ Day honors George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Purim
March 11-12, 2017
Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of Persian Jews from the plot of Haman to exterminate them, as recorded in the biblical Book of Esther. Purim is marked by a carnival atmosphere, with masquerades, farcical plays, and the giving of gifts, especially sweets and charitable gifts. In the synagogue, the chief observance is the reading of the Megillah (scroll) of Esther, but here, also, unusual levity prevails. For example, at every mention of Haman, the congregation rattles “graggers” (noisemakers) to drown out the sound of his name. It begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Magha Puja
March 12, 2017
This important Buddhist festival, also known as Fourfold Assembly or Sangha Day, marks the day of a spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks before the Buddha. The day is seen as a chance for people to reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices and traditions, and is a traditional time for exchanging gifts.

Norouz
March 21
Widely referred to as the Persian New Year and recognized by the United Nations as an international holiday, Norouz is celebrated and observed not only by Iranian peoples, but also many from Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan. It is marked by family visits and the exchange of gifts, as well as special feasts. It is also commemorated by setting tables with foods and special items beginning with the letter S; this is known as the Haft Sin. The 13th day of the New Year festival is called “Sizdah Bedar” and is traditionally spent outside at picnics and parks.

Passover
April 10-18, 2017
Passover is an eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates the Exodus and freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt.  In the United States, the first two nights of Passover are traditionally celebrated with a ceremonial home feast called a Seder, at which the story of the flight of the Israelites is read from a book called the Haggadah and participants eat and discuss foods symbolizing the slavery of the Jews and their flight from Egypt. The most important food symbol is matzah, an unleavened bread that serves as a reminder that when the Israelites fled, they did not have time to let their bread rise.  It begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Holy Thursday
April 13, 2017
Orthodox Holy Thursday
April 13, 2017
Also known as Great Thursday or Maundy Thursday, this feast or holy day marks the Thursday before Easter and commemorates the last supper of Jesus Christ.

Good Friday 
April 14, 2017
Orthodox Holy Friday
April 14, 2017
Good Friday is a holy day celebrated by most Christians on the Friday before Easter. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary.

Easter
April 16, 2017
Orthodox Easter
April 16, 2017
Easter, also known as the Feast of the Resurrection, the Sunday of the Resurrection, or Resurrection Day, is the most important religious festival of the Christian liturgical year. The date of Easter, a moveable feast, is derived from the lunar calendar; it falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon on or after March 21—always between March 22 and April 25. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, which occurred after his death by crucifixion. In the Catholic Church, Easter is actually part of an eight-day feast called the Octave of Easter.

Theravada New Year
April 11, 2017
New Year festival for Theravada Buddhists, celebrated for three days after the first full moon day in April.

Ridvan
April 20-May 2
This most holy Baha’i festival literally translates to “paradise,” and commemorates the 12-day period in 1863 that Baha’u’llah (Baha’i founder) spent in the Garden of Ridvan, just outside of Bagdad, when he began his prophethood. Observers typically refrain from work and school on April 21, April 29, and May 2. Ridvan begins and ends at sundown on the dates shown.

Wesak Day
May 10, 2017
The most important of the Buddhist festivals is also known as Visakha Puja, or simply as Buddha Day, and is a celebration of the Buddha’s birthday; for some Buddhists, it also marks his enlightenment and death. During this festival, observers bring offerings of flowers and candles as a reminder that life, like the beauty of flowers and candles, is temporary.

Memorial Day
May 29, 2017
Observed on the last Monday of May, this federal holiday remembers the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Ascension Thursday
May 25, 2017
Orthodox Ascension Thursday
May 25, 2017
This holiday, celebrated on the Thursday in the sixth week following Easter Sunday, is observed by many Christians as an affirmation of the ascension of Jesus. It is also known as Feast of the Ascension.

Shavuot
May 30-June 1, 2017
This Jewish holiday celebrates the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. It begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Ramadan
May 27-June 25, 2017
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the month during with the Holy Koran was revealed, is observed by Muslims around the world as a month of fasting and is considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam. From sunset until dawn throughout the month, adults abstain from food, drink, and intimate relations in order to achieve spiritual and physical purification, demonstrate self-discipline, and experience a common bond with the poor and needy. Ramadan is also observed with increased prayer and recitation of the Koran.

Juneteenth
June 19
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas on June 19, 1865.

Independence Day
July 4
Commonly known as the Fourth of July, this federal holiday commemorates the United States’ declaration of independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.

Dharma Day
July 9, 2017
One of Theravada Buddhism’s most important festivals and also known as Asalha Puja, Dharma Day celebrates Buddha’s first sermon, which contained the essence of all his subsequent teachings. The day is observed by donating offerings to temples and listening to sermons.

Eid al-Fitr
June 26, 2017
This principal Islamic holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. In Arabic, Fitr means “to break” and therefore symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period and of all evil habits. In fact, Muslims are specifically forbidden from fasting on this day.

Feast of the Assumption
Aug. 15
Orthodox Feast of the Assumption
Aug. 28
 According to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and parts of Anglicanism, the Assumption marks the day the Virgin Mary was received into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.

Labor Day
Sept. 5, 2016       Sept. 4, 2017
Observed on the first Monday in September, this federal holiday celebrates the labor movement and the economic and social contributions of workers.

Eid al-Adha
Sept. 12-13, 2016       Sept. 1-2, 2017
Also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, this Islamic religious festival commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to God. It marks the end of the Haji (pilgrimage to Mecca) and is traditionally observed with prayer, sacrificing a goat or sheep, and feasting with family and friends. It begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Rosh Hashanah
Oct. 2-4, 2016       Sept. 20-22, 2017
Rosh Hashanah, literally meaning “head of the year,” is a religious holiday celebrating the Jewish New Year and is marked by prayer, the blowing of a shofar (ram’s horn), and eating apples dipped in honey (for a sweet year). It is the first of the High Holy days and ushers in 10 days of repentance and spiritual renewal. Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Yom Kippur
Oct. 11-12, 2016       Sept. 29-30, 2017
The holiest and most solemn day in the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur, which means “day of atonement.” It is observed as a day of fasting, worship, and asking for forgiveness for sins of the previous year. Yom Kippur begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Sukkot
Oct. 16-23, 2016       Oct. 4-11, 2017
This week-long religious festival is both a commemoration of the Jewish people’s 40 years of wandering the desert as well as a thanksgiving for the fall harvest. The holiday is observes by joyously parading through synagogues and building huts with branch roofs (called a sukkah) as a reminder of the temporary dwellings in which their ancestors lived during their wanderings. Many reside and/or eat in their sukkah through the week. Sukkot begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Shemini Atzeret
Oct. 23-24, 2016       Oct. 11-12, 2017
Immediately following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret is considered connected to but separate from the days that precede it. It is devoted to the spiritual aspects of Sukkot and is observed with memorial services and cycle of Biblical readings. Shemini Atzeret begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

Simchat Torah
Oct. 24-25, 2016       Oct. 12-13, 2017
Translated as “Rejoicing in the Torah,” this Jewish festival immediately follows Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret and marks the end of the annual cycle of readings from the Torah that take place in the synagogue every week. Observers traditionally mark the day by dancing in the synagogue among the Torah scrolls. It begins at sundown on the first date listed for each year.

All Saints Day
Nov. 1
Orthodox All Saints Day
July 3, 2016       June 18, 2017

This Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holiday commemorates the faithful departed and is immediately followed by All Souls Day. The Eastern Orthodox Church’s All Saints is the first Sunday after Pentecost and as such marks the close of the Easter season.

Veterans’ Day 
Nov. 11
Formerly known as Armistice Day, this federal holiday honors armed service veterans.

Diwali
Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 2016       Oct. 19-23, 2017
Diwali is the biggest festival in India, and is observed by Hindus as well as Sikhs, Jains, and other religions. Also known as the “festival of light,” it signifies the beginning of the new year as well as the triumph of good over evil. The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights, and celebrants observe the day by decorating houses, shops, and public places with small clay oil lamps called Diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally lit by mustard oil, are placed in decorative arrangements in windows, at doors, and outside buildings.

Thanksgiving Day
Nov. 24, 2016   Nov. 23, 2017
In the United States, this holiday is seen as an opportunity for people to give thanks for what they have and for the good things that happened during the year. It is also a celebration of the harvest season and a commemoration of the first Thanksgiving in New England, which took place in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving, and subsequent presidents made a similar declaration each year afterward until Congress established Thanksgiving Day as a legal national holiday beginning in 1941.

American Indian Heritage Day
Nov. 25, 2016       Nov. 24, 2017
Since 2008, the United States has designated the Friday after Thanksgiving Day as American Indian or Native American Heritage Day, which celebrates the culture, traditions, and languages of Native Americans and their many contributions to the United States. It is observed as a state holiday in Maryland.

Hanukkah
Dec. 24-Jan. 1, 2016       Dec. 12-20, 2017
Spelled in many ways and celebrated by Jewish people around the world, this eight-night festival commemorates the victory of the Jews in the Maccabean War of 162 B.C.E. Also known as the “festival of lights,” Hanukkah also honors a story that although the Jewish fighters only had enough oil for their lamp to last one day, it miraculously burned for eight. Today, Jewish families celebrate the holiday by lighting a menorah (candelabra) holding eight candles (plus a ninth used to light the others), eating foods cooked in oil, playing games, and giving gifts. It begins at sundown on the first dated listed for each year.

Bodhi Day
Dec. 8
Some Buddhists celebrate this day in commemoration of the day the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, India.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Dec. 8 
This celebration of the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is observed celebrated in some Christian churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

Christmas
Dec. 25 
Commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, this holiday and is a religious and cultural celebration for billions of people around the world. The story of Christmas comes chiefly from the Gospels of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew in the New Testament. According to Luke, an angel appeared to shepherds outside the town of Bethlehem and told them of Jesus’ birth. Matthew tells how the wise men, called Magi, followed a bright star that led them to Jesus. Today, the holiday is frequently observed with gift giving, singing, and attending church services.

Kwanzaa
Dec. 26-Jan. 1
Kwanzaa (or Kwaanza), meaning “first fruits” in Swahili, is a week-long secular holiday honoring African heritage. It consists of seven days of celebration, each dedicated to one of the principles of African heritage—unity, self-determination, collective work/responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. It features activities such as candle-lighting, singing, and drumming, and culminates in a thanksgiving feast and gift-giving.