Learn About Life in the United States

Learn more about living in the United States of America.

American Holidays

Federal Holidays

Many government offices close on federal holidays and some private businesses may close as well. If the holiday falls during the weekend, the government may observe it on a different day. Federal employees receive pay and many receive time off for federal holidays

2017 Federal Holidays

Monday, January 2: New Year’s Day*
Monday, January 16: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, February 20Washington’s Birthday
Monday, May 29: Memorial Day
Tuesday, July 4: Independence Day
Monday, September 4: Labor Day
Monday, October 9: Columbus Day
Friday, November 10: Veterans Day**
Thursday, November 23: Thanksgiving Day
Monday, December 25: Christmas Day

*January 1, 2017 (the legal public holiday for New Year's Day), falls on a Sunday. Most federal offices will be closed on Monday, January 2, 2017, in observance of New Year's Day.
**November 11, 2017 (the legal public holiday for Veterans Day), falls on a Saturday. Most federal offices will be closed on Friday, November 10, 2017, in observance of Veterans Day.

Some people get Memorial Day and Veterans Day confused. On Memorial Day, America honors those who died while serving in the military. On Veterans Day, the country celebrates everyone who has served in the military.  

Every four years on Inauguration Day, many federal offices in the Washington, DC, area are closed.

Commonly Celebrated Holidays and Observances

Some holidays honor specific groups and events, such as Valentine’s Day, Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Flag Day, and Halloween. These are not federal holidays. Some holidays and observances receive Presidential proclamations.

Ethnic and Religious Holidays

Various ethnic and religious groups in the United States celebrate days with special meaning to them. Some of these holidays include Easter for Christians, the High Holy Days for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims, Day of Vesak for Buddhists, and Diwali for Hindus.

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American Money

The United States issues paper currency and coins to pay for purchases, taxes, and debts.

Paper Money

American paper currency is issued in several denominations: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing manufactures paper money. It also redesigns money, with new appearances and enhanced security features to prevent counterfeiting. You can purchase commemorative or bulk versions of American currency through the Bureau's Money Store.

The United States no longer issues bills in larger denominations, such as $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills. However, they are still legal tender and may still be in circulation. 

Coins

The United States issues several denominations, with the most common being: 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, and $1. The U.S. Mint is responsible for manufacturing and circulating coins to pay for goods and services. It also issues collectible and commemorative coins that honor a person, place, or event and are available for purchase.

Mutilated Money

If you have paper money that is extremely damaged, you can redeem it with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Examples of damaged paper money include bills that are less than one half of the bill, or in such a condition that you are unable to tell the denomination of the bill. If you have paper money that is dirty, defaced, torn, or more than half of the original size, you can take it to your local bank to exchange it for a bill that is in better shape.

The U.S. Mint has suspended its exchange program for coins that are fused, melted, or mutilated in any other way. Visit your local bank to exchange other coins that aren't severely damaged.

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Museums

Museums collect and care for objects of scientific, artistic, or historical importance and make them available for public viewing. They generally concentrate on a particular subject, and most belong to one or more of the following categories:

  • Fine Arts or Applied Arts
  • History—Natural, Cultural, and Military
  • Science
  • Technology
  • Archeology
  • Anthropology and Ethnology (branch of anthropology that analyzes cultures)
  • Children's Museums

Federal and Smithsonian Art and Cultural Museums

Military Museums 

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Official Language of the United States

There is no "official" language at the federal level for the United States. Although the most commonly used language is English, more than 300 languages are spoken or signed by the population. Some individual states list English as their official language. If you would like the United States or your state to adopt an official language, you should contact your elected officials.

The federal government is required to provide access to federal programs and federally assisted programs for people with limited English proficiency.

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Time Zones

The continental U.S. (including Alaska) spans five time zones. American Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are located in additional time zones.

Daylight Saving Time is a widely used system in the U.S. that adjusts the official local time forward one hour during spring and summer months. Clocks are moved ahead one hour on the second Sunday in March at 2 a.m. (local time). Clocks are moved back one hour on the first Sunday in November at 2 a.m. (local time).

Some people remember which way to move their clocks by using the phrase, "spring forward, fall back."

Daylight Saving Time is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and most of Arizona.

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U.S. Medals and Honors

The President, Congress, and every branch of the U.S. military gives awards and honors to highlight the outstanding achievements of our citizens. Here is a partial list of some of the most common awards and honors.

Civilian Medals and Honors

The Presidential Medal of Freedom - As the highest civilian award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is given for an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. It  may also be awarded to members of the military and non-citizens. First awarded in 1963, the medal  can be additionally awarded “With Distinction” for especially important service. See a list of recipients from 1993 on. 

The Congressional Gold Medal - The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. It is awarded for achievements that have a major impact on American history or culture.. Awardees can be civilian or military personnel and are not required to be citizens. This medal is also given in silver and bronze. This medal was first awarded to Founding Father George Washington by the Second Continental Congress in 1776. See a list of recipients.

The National Medal of Arts - This is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government. The National Medal of Arts is awarded to individuals or groups who “are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States.” Recipients are selected by the National Endowment for The Arts, and this medal was first awarded in 1984. See a list of recipients.

The Kennedy Center Honors - Awarded by the Kennedy Center’s Board of Trustees, which is headed by the First Lady, this award is given by the President to honor outstanding contributions to U.S. art, music, theatre, film, and culture. This award was first given in 1978. See a list of recipients.

The National Medal of Science - The National Medal of Science was established by the 86th Congress in 1959 as a Presidential award to be given to individuals "deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences." In 1980 Congress expanded this recognition to include the social and behavioral sciences. See a list of recipients.

The National Humanities Medal - This award honors individuals or groups whose work has “deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens' engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.” This medal succeeds the Charles Frankel Prize and was first awarded in 1997. See a list of recipients.

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation - This medal is awarded by the President of the United States to American inventors and innovators who have made significant contributions to the development of new and important technology. The award may be granted to a specific person, to a group of people, or to an entire organization or corporation. This medal was first awarded in 1985 as the National Medal of Technology.  See a list of recipients.

Military Medals

Medal of Honor - The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award, . bestowed upon members of the U.S. armed forces for acts of valor in combat. It’s presented by the President in the name of Congress and was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in December 1861. There are three different designs for the Medal of Honor award: Army, Air Force, and Navy versions. (The Navy MOH can also be presented to Marines and Coast Guard members.) The award is given based on “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”

The Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Air Force Cross - The military cross awards are presented to U.S. military members for extraordinary heroism in combat. In each branch, they are  the  second highest military service awards. The Navy Cross can be presented to Marines and to Coast Guard members serving under the Department of the Navy. A new Coast Guard Cross was created by Congress in 2010 for extraordinary heroism in action while not operating under the Navy.

Silver Star - Awarded for gallantry in action, the Silver Star is the  third-highest award for members of the armed forces in the U.S. It was first established in 1918 as the Citation Star but in 1932 it was replaced by a new design.

Review the list of recipients by award and by service within the Department of Defense.

Find more information about the top three military medals.

Other Notable Military Medals

Distinguished Flying Cross - Established by the Air Corps Act in 1926, the Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” The first award was given to Captain Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for his transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.

Purple Heart - The act of giving U.S. military awards was established by General George Washington on August 7, 1782, when he created the Badge of Military Merit, the predecessor of the Purple Heart, which was established in 1932. The Purple Heart is given to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members wounded or killed in action in defense of the nation. 

See pictures and descriptions of various military medals.

Learn about replacing military awards and decorations.

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Last Updated: July 25, 2017

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