I wondered recently whether we are culturally plateauing when it comes to holiday creation. I looked up a list of federal holidays observed in the U.S., and tried to find the date that they were first celebrated, at least informally:
New Year’s Day – 153 B.C.
Thanksgiving – October 1621
President’s Day (George Washington’s Birthday) – February 22nd 1732
Independence Day July 18, 1777
Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. – January 15, 1929
Columbus Day*(Indigenous People’s Day) – As old as 1868
Memorial Day – May 1868
Labor Day – 1887
Veteran’s Day(Armistice Day) – 11/11/1919
As you look over the list, you’ll observe that these can be categorized generally as: cultural, political, and religious. The 1700s and 1800s were busy times for holiday creation, with two created in 1868. I would venture to guess that holidays were created more often during this period as the U.S. was trying to establish its own identity. It would be interesting to compare this list internationally to see what the average holiday first-observance rate is during the first two centuries after a new country is established.
It’s also important to keep in mind that these are only federally recognized government holidays, and do not include other holidays in the three categories listed above. Some have changed into new adaptations, such as Columbus day and Indigenous People’s Day. Two other cultural Holidays missing here are St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. St. Patrick’s day was first formally celebrated in the U.S. in Boston in 1732, and Halloween was first celebrated by the Celts around 2000 years ago.
I think, to answer my headline question, that no, we are not creating fewer holidays in the larger historical picture. Religious holidays are certainly the oldest, while political holidays seem to be the most recent. I expect this trend to continue.