The Holidays, Translated by Catriona McPherson

I’ve been discussing holidays with friends online recently. Partly that’s because I planned a trilogy of books ( the Last Ditch Motel series) that all opened on US holidays – book one the 4th of July, book two Halloween, book three Valentine’s Day – only I’ve just signed the contract for books five and six (of a trilogy) and I’m scared of running out.

But partly it was sparked by the fact that THE MIRROR DANCE begins as Dandy Gilver is headed to a park with her female servants in tow on the afternoon of the August Bank in 1938. They’re going to watch a Punch and Judy show and eat buns. Guess whether the performance goes smoothly and they’re all home in time for supper or whether the puppeteer is murdered in his booth with fifty people watching and no way for the murder to have arrived or left again. Go on, guess.

Anyway, I was talking about it and an American pal (anonymous for reasons you will find out in a bit) said, “August Bank? Didn’t he win a Tony award last year?” which made me laugh hard and feel grateful all over again for having funny friends.

It reminded me of those online threads where Brits say what they know about the US states, or Aussies dish on what the English counties mean to them, and I decided to do it with holidays from here and from home.

I knew there’d be material because my understanding of American holidays was pretty shaky for a few years even after I moved here and I still routinely mix up Labor and Memorial Day. (Still, I’ve never done what my husband did. In early November 2010, a tentative knock came on his office door at the university and a very nervous student, who’d drawn the short straw, asked him if it would be possible not to have the planned class at 9am on the fourth Friday of the month. They must have thought he was a real hard-nut.)

He knows better now, as do I (except for Memorial and Labor Day). Here, though, are the thoughts from here about there and from there about here from two people who pretty much know nothing. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Strangely, given the general lack of knowledge on display, I learned something from both. (See footnotes.)

US holidays explained

New Year’s Day. Same! We’re all the same!

Martin Luther King’s Birthday. Okay yeah no we’re not. Yay for Stevie Wonder!

Presidents’ Day. Is this when they swear them in? Freezing to death on those steps?

Cesar Chavez Day. You’re making stuff up now

Memorial Day. Sounds like a movie

Independence Day. I should have saved the movie joke

Labor Day. Absolutely no clue whatsoever what this is except something with gloves

Thanksgiving. Marshmallows on your dinner and – face it – rugby with better outfits

Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day? This is when posh people are dinnerladies for the day? 1

Christmas. What happened to the separation of church and state? 2

UK holidays explained

New Year’s Day. Check

2nd of January. Someone’s birthday? 3

Good Friday and Easter Monday. For real? What’s Easter Monday?4

May Day. Check.

Spring Bank. Wut?

 August Bank. Didn’t he win a Tony award last year? (the gag that started it all.)

Christmas. Check. But for reals there’s nothing between August and December? Call yourselves socialists? You’re not even trying.

Boxing Day. Wut? For boxing? Does everyone box? Do little old ladies box?


ftnt 1: Ouch. This strongly suggests that the cameras at the soup kitchens undermine the good work pretty comprehensively.

ftnt 2: This is a really good question. What did happen to the separation of church and state? How can Christmas be a federal holiday? I never considered how odd this is until now.

ftnt 3: Not someone’s birthday. It’s an extra hangover day for Scotland alone. I weep for my country.

ftnt 4: This is another really good question. “Easter Monday” is a phrase I’ve used my whole life and it never occurred to me till now that there is no such thing. Maundy Thursday, yes. Good Friday, yes. Easter Sunday, yes. But Easter Monday is nothing. And if we were determined to have two days off, Maundy Thursday is right there, already existing and everything. Very weird.

Favorite Holidays

My favourite holidays (after Christmas) are MLK Day and Presidents’ Day. It still feels illicit to have days off in January and February instead of slogging from Boxing Day to Easter. What’s your favourite holiday?

The Mirror Dance

Also, even though I’m launching THE MIRROR DANCE right now, by the time you read this blogpost, I’ll be deep in NaNoWriMo pounding out the first draft of Last Ditch 5 long past Chapter 1’s Thanksgiving debacle. Wish me luck, eh?

National-bestselling and multi-award-winning author, Catriona McPherson (she/her), was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating to the US in 2010.

She writes historical detective stories set in the old country in the 1930s, featuring gently-born lady sleuth, Dandy Gilver. Book 15,  THE MIRROR DANCE, is coming in November. After eight years in the new country, she kicked off the comic Last Ditch Motel series, which takes a wry but affectionate look at California life from the POV of a displaced Scot (where do we get our ideas, eh?). Book 4, SCOT MIST, is coming in January. She also writes a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers. The latest of these is A GINGERBREAD HOUSE, which Kirkus called “a disturbing tale of madness and fortitude”.

Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA, Society of Authors, and a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.


  1. Thrilled to have you visit, as always! And delighted you explained the terminology to us. In my Zooms with my British sisters, every once in a while the common language that separates our two peoples is baffling.

    1. Thanks for having me, Keenan. I was in See’s Candies on Monday and it was packed. I wondered aloud why that would be. When the woman said “the holidays”, I felt as fresh off the boat as ever. Early Christmas shopping? A chocolate element to Thanksgiving I didn’t know about? No clue.

  2. Thank you for explaining. All is clear now. 🙂 One thing I’ve noticed is that there do seem to be a lot of bank holidays in England. Is that because bankers work so hard?

  3. Love this translation…. my Swiss husband has lived her for many years and may still want a printed copy! Thanks for joining us today!

      1. I’m told Memorial Day grew out of Memory Day which had the same purpose. The way I remember it is Memorial Day happens in May, M’s. And Labor Day celebrates organized labor, much of which is seasonal i.e. they work all summer so their holiday is at the end of summer.

      2. Easy peasy. Summer is a Memorial to Labor. Calling it a Labor to Memorial makes no sense.

        One of my favorite parts of Bill Bryson’s book AT HOME is his comments on Sir John Lubbock who invented the bank holiday. (He is also responsible for the fact that they didn’t run a railroad track straight through the middle of Stonehenge.)

        Slightly off topic but we just toured Greece with a small group and I startled the one Englishman by explaining that “scheme” has a completely different significance in the US than in the UK.

    1. Is it? Hard to tell these days, why there’s nothing being delivered on any given morning. Also: get off my lawn. And: did you pay good money for those jeans with the holes already in them? Finally: how can you type with those nails?

  4. Love this! So great to have you on the blog!

    For some reason Easter Monday has crept over to the U.S. as well. It’s been on my kid’s school calendar for several years now. But I’m in New York, and the school districts here close at the drop of a hat for ANY holiday from ANYWHERE. Most of the time they close for Passover and then grab Easter Monday at the tail end.

  5. Labor is for the workers, who often have to work the day anyway, and Memorial is for reMEMbering the dead, like Remembrance Day. Veteran’s Day is to remember all veterans, living and dead.

    August Bank wins a Tony every year, isn’t it?

  6. Catholics in the US have Easter Monday I well Catholic schools do. No clue why but with Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Monday it gave families a 5 day holiday if they wanted to go out of town.

  7. Growing up we had Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday, both were in February in 1968 our “wise” government decided that we should lump them together into one holiday and include all the other presidents. I’ve always thought they cheated me out of an extra holiday and made me celebrate a bunch of less than celebration worthy presidents.

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