Historical Holidays

Discover the stories behind holidays designed to commemorate important moments and people in history.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — January 15

Each year on January 15 we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Dayand honor the work of this incredible man. We also take the opportunity to reflect on the work that still needs to be done in terms of racial equality. This day was established in 1983 by Ronald Reagan to honor King and other civil rights activists and the strides they made towards racial justice. This January 15, make the holiday more than just a day off and take time to reflect on civil rights issues across the globe and take action to promote justice.

Ides of March – March 15

Beware the Ides of March! Why, you ask? On March 15 (“ides” roughly corresponds to 15) in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by his BFF and 60 other of his closest friends. Harsh, right? He was the leader of Rome, and was killed by 60 senators at a senate meeting because, as far as history knows, they thought he had the potential to turn into a dictator. His death has become so legendary that “Brutus,” the name of his best friend who betrayed him, has become synonymous for “traitor.” Meanwhile Caesar got so famous that Shakespeare famously immortalized his life and death in a play (that’s when you know you’ve made it). And that play is where the common phrase “et tu, Brute” (you too, Brutus) comes from. Caesar says it when he sees Brutus about to stab him! The Romans were a crazy bunch.

National Winston Churchill Day – April 9

Winston Churchill Day is celebrated on April 9 because on this day in 1963 President John Fitzgerald Kennedy signed a bill into law making Winston Churchill — the soldier, author, and indefatigable British Prime Minister — an honorary citizen of the United States. It wasn’t his birthday, or even the day of his death (he was still very much alive) but the day did have military significance for us all. Sir Winston Churchill, who was knighted by the Queen for his wartime service to England, is credited with unifying the British people to resist the intensive bombing of Britain by Germany during World War II. It was on April 9 in 1940 that Germany eluded the British blockade and invaded Norway. Some would say that was the real start of World War II. But that isn’t the reason we celebrate it on April 9. No, we celebrate Winston Churchill Day then because that is when the slow workings of the US Congress finally got around to presenting the bill to the President to be signed. Some things never change. To commemorate Winston Churchill Day on April 9 we have great facts and pithy quotes to help you “keep calm and carry on.”

ANZAC Day – April 25

On Apr. 25, we observe ANZAC Day, one of Australia’s most important and revered national occasions. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the World War I. With the many commemorative services and memorials available today, Anzac Day is a time at which Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war and honor those who have give their lives for service to their country.

Harvey Milk Day – May 22

On May 22 we honor the life and legacy of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in California and a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. Time magazine included Harvey Milk on a list titled “The 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.” Milk was not only an advocate for the LGBT community, but for all minorities. He believed in safe, strong neighborhoods and supported public education, affordable childcare, and equal rights for all. Elected to the position of city supervisor in San Francisco, he held office for one year before his life was tragically cut short in 1978 by a political rival who opposed Milk’s liberal views. Harvey Milk’s contributions to the cause of equality for all people has been recognized in a number of ways, including the issuance of a stamp with his picture on it, the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Freedom, and the creation of a holiday in his memory. Harvey Milk Day was officially established as a holiday in 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger, then governor of California, signed it into law. Although Milk died, his work continues today through the work of the Milk Foundation, founded by his nephew Stuart Milk, in honor of his uncle.

Memorial Day – May 29

For many Americans, Memorial Day evokes the smell of burgers on the grill and the image of summertime. But Memorial Day—which occurs on the last Monday in May in remembrance of those who died while serving in the armed forces—is a holiday steeped in somber American history. Originating after the American Civil War as "Decoration Day," when the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers in both the North and South, by the 20th century Memorial Day had been unified to honor all Americans who died while serving in the military.
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