Unlike most federal holidays, Christmas is always celebrated on the same date each year. In 2021, December 25th falls on a Saturday. But, while the actual event being celebrated is on Saturday, the federal holiday will be observed on Christmas Eve which is Friday, December 24th.
Why is Christmas Eve the Holiday in 2021 Instead of Christmas Day?
If a holiday falls on a Saturday, for most Federal employees, the preceding Friday will be treated as a holiday for pay and leave purposes. (See 5 U.S.C. 6103(b).) If a holiday falls on a Sunday, for most Federal employees, the following Monday will be treated as a holiday for pay and leave purposes.
For the same reason that Christmas will be acknowledged with a holiday observance on December 24th this year, the holiday for bringing in the new year will be on December 31, 2021 instead of January 1st.
January 1, 2022, is on a Saturday. And, since Congress has passed a law that declares this situation calls for the holiday to be observed as a day off of work, that is why the Friday before Christmas and the Friday before New Year’s Day will be observed as a holiday for the federal workforce.
Will Federal Employees Get A Day Off Before Christmas Eve?
It is quite common for a president to give federal employees an additional day off during the Christmas holiday season.
When Christmas falls on a weekday, there is often a practice of a president issuing an Order giving the federal workforce another holiday on Christmas Eve.
Last year, for example, President Trump issued an Executive Order on December 18th giving federal employees an additional day off on Christmas Eve which was a Thursday. In fact, he also gave federal employees a day off on Christmas Eve in 2018 (a Monday) and 2019 (a Tuesday) as well.
Since 1950, when Christmas falls on a Thursday, presidents have always given federal employees an additional day off. This results in giving most federal employees a four-day weekend—which is no doubt widely appreciated by the federal workforce.
It is also very common for federal employees to get an extra day off of work (with pay) when Christmas falls on a Monday. But, when Christmas falls on a Saturday, and Friday is already recognized as a holiday when most federal employees do not have to work, no additional time off has been given by a president.
Why is Christmas in December Anyway?
While Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, early Christians did not celebrate the birth of Jesus. Moreover, no one apparently knows the exact date on which Jesus was born.
So why is the celebration of Jesus’ birth in December?
Politics influenced decisions in early recorded history just as in more current history. There may have been a political reason for choosing December as the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the Roman Emperor Constantine may have been as politically astute as modern-day politicians.
The church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of the emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, some have speculated that choosing this date had the political motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations.
So, the version of Christmas including sleigh rides with silver bells in the snow, building a snowman, or Hallmark movies celebrating Christmas around a warm fire on a cold winter’s day in a ski lodge probably evolved from a date that served the political interests of an ancient Roman emperor.
That does not make our Christmas celebration any less significant or less joyful. The popular images of our Christmas celebration may have more to do with the 1843 imagery created by Charles Dickens than historically accurate dates.
What About New Year’s Day?
President Nixon gave federal employees an extra holiday on December 31, 1973 in celebration of the arrival of a new year. President Eisenhower gave federal employees an extra four hours off on December 21, 1953 (a Thursday) and again on December 31, 1957 (a Tuesday).
We do not know why President Eisenhower and Nixon gave federal employees this extra time off of work to celebrate New Year’s Day, but the practice did not catch on with later presidents.
What About An Extra Holiday in 2021?
As noted above, December 24th is a holiday when Christmas falls on a Saturday. Also, December 31st is also a holiday because New Year’s Day falls on a Saturday.
In the past, presidents have not given another day off for Christmas or in celebration of the New Year under these circumstances. So, based on past precedent, it is unlikely any other holiday will be given to federal employees during this holiday season.
Does past precedent mean that President Biden could not give federal employees an additional day off? No, he could do so if he decides that is a good idea or if he just feels generous.
But, those who want to take more time off during the holiday season, plan on using your annual leave and do not plan on getting another unexpected day off. If the past is prologue, an additional day off is unlikely.