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Observances are days to celebrate or remember an event, similar to holidays. While holidays usually grant a day off from work, observances don’t.

Halloween is a secular international observance that has religious origins.


What Is an Observance?

When people celebrate or commemorate something, but do not have a day off from work for that reason, we call it an observance. People observe a special day—it might be a religious tradition, a remembrance of a historical event, or a day to focus on an important societal topic like poverty.

Holiday vs. Observance

A holiday is associated with time off from work, school, or other regular activities. Holidays can be both recognized and sanctioned by governments (public holidays), or they can be informal, cultural, or religious, and not officially recognized by authorities (de facto holidays). In both cases, people usually have time off from work.

An observance can similarly be officially recognized or informally celebrated. An observance can be nation-wide or local, religious or secular. In any case, people will likely still have to work as usual, and observe the day in their free time.

Different Types of Observances

At timeanddate.com, we only report and show nation-wide secular and religious observances for select countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Religious Observances

Religious observances are days of religious importance but aren’t days off in a country. Some faith-based organizations and places of employment may be closed during some of these observances.

Secular Observances

Secular observances are marked by people irrespective of their religious or cultural backgrounds. Popular worldwide secular observances include New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day.

Some observances, such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween, are nowadays considered secular observances, but have religious or cultural origins.

Awareness Observances

Awareness observances are days created to bring attention to a cause that affects the lives of specific groups of people locally, nationally, or internationally.

Usually, an awareness observation is declared by an inter-governmental agency like the United Nations or an international non-profit agency. International Nurses Day on May 12, for example, is sponsored by the International Council of Nurses, which is a group of several national nursing associations around the world.

National or local governmental or non-profit agencies can also designate specific days as awareness days. Rural Transit Day in the United States, for instance, is a national awareness day to bring attention to the unique transit needs of rural areas. It was created and administered by the US Department of Transport.

Awareness Months and Years

Some awareness observations are annual day-long events, while others, like Women’s History Month, are month-long observations.

At timeanddate.com, we only show the first day of awareness months.

Other annual month-long observances in the United States are:

  • Black History Month
  • Native American Heritage Month
  • Hispanic Heritage Month

Many international organizations also reserve a year to address an issue of cultural, political, economic, or social significance.

International Observances

International observances are commemorative or awareness days of international relevance. Some religious, cultural, and secular observances, like Christmas, Lunar New Year, and Valentine’s Day are observed internationally. UN observances are also international days.

National Observances

National observances mark occasions and days important to national identity or culture. Often, a country’s government or official agencies designate specific days as national observances. While places of employment and schools are open for business, people might take some time to commemorate the day by holding special events.

Some national observance days are also flag days. National observances can be both religious, secular, or awareness-based.