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Inauguration Day in the United States

Inauguration Day occurs in the USA once every four years on January 20. It is held in the year after presidential elections have been held.

Crowds gather at the capitol building in Washington D.C. to witness the inauguration of a president.

©iStockphoto.com/carterdayne

Is Inauguration Day a Public Holiday?

Inauguration Day is a holiday for federal employees only in the District of Columbia, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia, and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church in Virginia. It is also a holiday for district employees in Washington DC.

What Do People Do?

The new terms of office of the president and vice-president officially begin at noon in Washington DC.

On Inauguration Day, the candidates who won the elections in the previous year are sworn into office as president and vice-president of the United States. The swearing-in ceremony takes place at the U.S. Capitol and is organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. It is usually followed by a parade along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The new president watches the parade from the presidential viewing stand in front of the White House. The route of the parade is often lined by thousands of people. However, many Americans watch the ceremony on television or listen to it on the radio.

Public Life

Inauguration Day is not a public holiday in most of the United States and most people are expected to work as usual. Many schools, stores, and other organizations are open as normal in many parts of the USA. Public transport services run on their regular schedules. There may be changes to normal broadcasting schedules on television and radio, as news stations cover the inauguration ceremony.

In and around Washington D.C., there can be considerable disruption to public life, both on Inauguration Day and in the days before and after the ceremony. This is not only due to the actual ceremony and parades that accompany it but also the protests and demonstrations that are organized and the massive security operation that takes place. If you have business affairs in this area in the second half of January in an inauguration year, it is wise to check carefully that you will be able to do what you need to.

Background

The head of state of the USA has been a president since 1789. In that year, George Washington was elected and inaugurated as president of the United States of America. He was inaugurated for the first time on April 30, 1789, and for the second time on March 4, 1793. Subsequent inaugurations were held on March 4 until the second inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt on January 20, 1937. Since then, Inauguration Day has been held on January 20 and the term of office officially starts at 12:00 noon on that date.

Usually, the vice-president is sworn in first and the president at exactly 12:00 noon. After they have been sworn in, the president and vice-president are given four ruffles and flourishes. The ruffles are played on drums and the flourishes on bugles, which are simple brass instruments with no valves. The ruffles and flourishes form a fanfare before a performance of the president's anthem, “Hail to the Chief,” and the vice-president's anthem, “Hail, Columbia.” There is then a 21-gun salute from the howitzers of the military district of Washington.

After the ceremony, the president and vice-president are guests of honor at a luncheon given by the United States Congress. Later in the day, they parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and walk part of the way from the Capitol to the White House. If Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday, the presidential oath is usually administered in a private ceremony on that day and a public ceremony and celebrations are held on the following day.

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first African-American president to be inaugurated. On January 20, 2021, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. (Joe Biden) was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. His vice president, Kamala Harris, is the first female vice president of the country.

Inauguration Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2017FriJan 20Inauguration DayState holidayDistrict of Columbia
2017FriJan 20Inauguration DayFederal HolidayDC, MD*, VA*
2021WedJan 20Inauguration DayState holidayDistrict of Columbia
2021WedJan 20Inauguration DayFederal HolidayDC, MD*, VA*
2025MonJan 20Inauguration DayState holidayDistrict of Columbia
2025MonJan 20Inauguration DayFederal HolidayDC, MD*, VA*
* Only some parts of Maryland and Virginia observe this holiday.

While we diligently research and update our holiday dates, some of the information in the table above may be preliminary. If you find an error, please let us know.