Are birthdays holidays?

Or if not, is there a general term for all celebration days, including birthdays as well as public holidays (especially in AE).

Festivities? Festival days? Feast days? Revels?

  • 1
    You said it and it fits: "celebration days".
    – Centaurus
    Mar 26, 2017 at 17:43
  • do you mean your birthday or other peoples?
    – JMP
    Mar 26, 2017 at 17:55
  • Both. More particularly, family celebrations.
    – Felix
    Mar 26, 2017 at 18:00
  • 1
    Or commemoration days for those where the term 'celebration' is inappropriate, eg Anzac Day in Aus/NZ.
    – Tony Linde
    Mar 26, 2017 at 19:47
  • 2
    @Clare - How about Red Letter Days? Mar 27, 2017 at 7:56

3 Answers 3


A) Only if you're not going to work.

According to dictionary.com, which has the lengthiest and most inclusive list of definitions for the word that I could find, the following is the definition for holiday:

  1. a day fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended in commemoration of some event or in honor of some person.

  2. any day of exemption from work (distinguished from working day ).

  3. a time or period of exemption from any requirement, duty, assessment, etc.

  4. a religious feast day; holy day, especially any of several usually commemorative holy days observed in Judaism.

  5. Sometimes, holidays. Chiefly British. a period of cessation from work or one of recreation; vacation.

Several other sources offer extremely similar definitions (see here and here) As you can see, the word holiday is virtually exclusive to days off from work, official or not. Having a birthday does not mean it's a holiday, and if you take the day off, you're on holiday or holidaying (and though this constitutes a holiday, it only applies to that one year, not ones in the past and future). If you don't take the day off, it's not a holiday.

It may be argued that any given day of the year has some kind of holiday or observance; this is correct but semantically I think you meant "is a birthday a holiday in itself"? The answer is no.

So holidays do not necessarily encompass birthdays. Meanwhile, a festival or celebration is only a birthday if the latter is recognized somehow, but according to this, that's the closest you'll get. Thus, there is no word that will incorporate both holidays and birthdays a hundred percent of the time, but that's just me being a prescriptivist. People will understand you if you call a birthday a holiday, festival, celebration, or occasion, so are they necessarily wrong? It's up to you to determine the usage in our fluid and multifaceted language.

  • Thanks a lot for your detailed answer! And also for linking the reverse dictionary – that site was completely new to me.
    – Felix
    Mar 29, 2017 at 16:30
  • No problem, hope I could help Mar 29, 2017 at 21:15
  • Definitely. But I'm still a bit puzzled by the partly contradicting answers of the other users. If I may ask these two follow-up questions: What do you think of @aparente001's and Tony's suggestions (»red letter days« / »on high days and holidays«)? And how come some speakers accept »celebration days« (Centaurus), while others consider it inappropriate (Clare)? (I'm new here and not yet quite familiar with the rather restrictive commenting rules on SE)
    – Felix
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:06

Looking at Wordnet, the place where 'birthday' and 'public holiday' intersect is at 'day (a day assigned to a particular purpose or observance)'. So, as suspected, no, there is no general term for both that would serve your purpose.


In Britain there is an idiomatic expression on high days and holidays.

For example Unlike the French and the Italians, the English usually only take wine with their meals "on high days and holidays".

Obviously high days would include birthdays.

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