Subtopic: Federal Holidays

Grade Level: 3rd Grade

Author: Stephanie Balls

Overall Objectives:

Students will identify the federal holidays.

Students will learn why each holiday is celebrated.

Students will learn the history of each holiday.

Students will identify how the celebration of each holiday ties the nation



Burnett, B. (1983). Holidays. New York: Franklin Watts. Third Edition.

Low, A. (1991). The Family Read-Aloud Holiday Treasury. Boston, Massachusetts:

Little, Brown and Company.

Lowery, L. (1987). Martin Luther King Day. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda

Books, Inc.

Penner, L. (1983). Celebration. The Story of American Holidays. New York:


Purcell, J. (1955). The True Book of Holidays. Chicago: Children's Press.

Scott, G. (1982). Labor Day. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.

Scott, G. (1983). Memorial Day. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.

Sorenson, L. (1994). Memorial Day. Vero Beach, Florida: Rourke Press.

Sorenson, L. (1994). President's Day. Vero Beach, Florida: Rourke Press.

Wilt, J. & Watson, T. (1978). Season and Holiday Happenings. Waco, Texas: Creative



Background Information:

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated every third Monday in January. On this

day schools are closed, postal and bank workers get the day off, and every federal

office in the country shuts down.

Martin Luther King, Jr was born on January 15, 1929. He was the son of a

Baptist minister. Martin, too, became a minister. In the 1950's, he became active in

the civil rights movement. At that time, laws in America limited the rights of black

Americans. For example, blacks could not eat in restaurants or sit in public waiting

rooms. Blacks had separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, and areas to ride on the


Martin Luther King, Jr supported nonviolent protests to change such unfair

laws. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King led more than 200,000 Americans in a

peaceful march in Washington D.C. This is where he made his famous "I Have a

Dream" speech. In April, 1968 King, Jr was shot in Memphis Tennessee. He fought for

freedom, equality, and dignity for all races. He tried to better the lives of the poor.

He was a leader for world peace, also.

There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the legislature it took to

make this day a National Holiday. Many people thought that if Martin Luther King, Jr

was given a holiday, then other great Americans such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F.

Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower should be given a holiday also.

Others claimed that we already have enough federal holidays. This would be

number ten. It costs the federal government a great deal to pay for this and other

holidays. Other still felt that this was just a way to make up for the way blacks were

treated during slavery.

Finally, the bill was passed and signed into law by President Reagan on

November 2, 1983, although the first national celebration of King's birthday did not

occur until January 20, 1986. President Reagan also urged each state to decide on a

tribute to King.


Students will identify the reasons that Martin Luther King Jr is a national hero.

Students will identify and research other heros.

Students will write tributes to Martin Luther King Jr.

Students will identify how much each federal holiday costs the government.

Time Allotment: 2 to 3 days.


Poems entitled We Shall Overcome and Dreams (see appendix).

Library and resource materials.

Writing Journals.


A. Mini-Lecture - Discuss with the students all of the great things that Martin Luther

King, Jr did for our country. Resources for this information can be found in the

Reference Section.

B. Journal Writing - Tell the students to write in the journals about what their tribute

to King would be (as President Reagan asked each state to have). Guide their ideas

to reflect the man that he was and the great things that he accomplished.

C. Choral Reading - Read as a class the poems entitled We Shall Overcome and


D. Study of Heros - Discuss with the students what a hero is. Explain to the students

that there are other heros besides those athletes that play professional sports.

Discuss with them the following people who represent steps forward for freedom,

justice, and equality: Jackie Robinson--the first black to play professional baseball.

Sally Ride--the first woman athlete. Rosa Parks--the black woman who refused to give

up her seat on a bus to a white man. Sandra Day O'Connor--the first woman in the

supreme court. Cesar Chavez--fought for Mexican American farm workers to win

better pay and working conditions. Jesse Jackson--civil rights leader. Have the

students research a hero that has made great steps for his or her country or cause.

E. Computing the Cost - Have students compute how much it costs the government

to have a federal holiday. It costs $18 million for extra overtime pay to federal

employees who have to work on a federal holiday. It costs another $220 million to

pay employees for a day on which they are not working. Have the students compute

how much it costs for the United States to celebrate the 10 National Holidays.


Questions and comments during the open discussion will be assessed.

Writings in journals will be assessed.

Research and report on heros will be assessed.

Math computation on cost of holiday will be assessed.


Background Information:

Washington's Birthday  (official federal designation)

(a.k.a. President's Day celebrating George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's Birthday)

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were two of our greatest and best

loved presidents. We observe the birthdays of both. Washington's birthday falls on

February 22 and Lincoln's on February 12. Many states now observe one holiday on

the third Monday in February and call it President's Day. President's Day honors two

men who worked hard for America during difficult times. All United States

Government offices such as Postal Service Offices are closed on President's Day.

Many schools are also closed.

George Washington

George Washington, the father of our country, was born on February 22, 1732

in Virginia. He began his service for our country as a commander-in-chief of the

colonial army. Washington was a strong and inspiring leader. His soldiers were

devoted to him.

He was elected first president of the United States. He served two terms, but

declined to serve a third. Washington died on December 14, 1799. His birthday has

been celebrated in numerous ways ever since his death. Today schools, banks,

libraries, and government offices are closed in honor of his birthday. There is a

wreath-laying ceremony at his burial site in Mount Vernon. At Valley Forge, the site

where Washington spent a long, hard winter, there is a reenactment of the military

exercises Washington and his soldiers performed.

Americans remember George Washington with great respect. Washington

worked hard and fought to help America become a free, independent nation. George

Washington has also been honored with a large monument--the Washington

Monument, located in Washington D.C. He also has a state named after him, and his

picture is on the dollar bill and the quarter.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a tiny log cabin in Kentucky.

He only had one year of schooling, but he loved to read and this is how he received

most of his education.

He was a tall, thin man who often wore a tall, black hat called a stovepipe hat,

in which he kept letters and notes tucked in the inside band. He was elected president

in 1861, not soon after, the Civil War began. Lincoln issued the famous Emancipation

Proclamation, which freed all slaves. Only five days after the Civil War ended, Lincoln

was shot in a theater by John Wilkes Booth.

Beginning with the first year after Lincoln's death, his birthday was celebrated

in many different kinds of gatherings. Today, Lincoln's birthday is observed along with

Washington's on the third Monday in February.

Lincoln was admired so much that a huge memorial--the Lincoln Memorial, a

large statue of President Lincoln, was erected in his honor. Lincoln's picture is also on

the five dollar bill and the penny.


Students will identify the traits that made George Washington and Abraham

Lincoln great men.

Students will write about presidents and the traits that make them great men.

Students will write reasons why President's Day should be celebrated.

Time Allotment: 2 to 3 days.


Activities listed in the appendix.

The Lincoln Penny

A Letter About George Washington

What's in a Name

Library and resource materials.


A. Mini-Lesson - In this lesson discuss the qualities and traits that made both George

Washington and Abraham Lincoln famous men who the country admires. Discuss in

detail their backgrounds, presidency, and legacies.

B. Letter About George Washington - See appendix for materials and instruction.

C. The Lincoln Penny - See appendix for materials and instruction.

D. What's in a Name? - See appendix for materials and instruction.

E. Presidents Past and Present - Assign each student a president to research and

report on. Have them find five important things that he did for our country and some

of the traits that made him a great man. Limit the length of this report to one or

two pages.

F. If I Were President - Have the students pretend that it is the year 2040 and they

are the President of the United States. Have them list on a paper 10 reasons why the

nation should celebrate their being president on President's Day.


Activities from appendix will be assessed for completeness and understanding.

Research on presidents will be assessed for completeness, handwriting, grammar, and


List of presidential qualities will be assessed.


Background Information:

Memorial Day

Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. It is celebrated on either May

30 or May 31. Memorial Day had it's beginnings during the American Civil War. This

was a long and bloody war that lasted for four years. In the Civil War, Americans

fought Americans. The southern states were fighting against the northern states.

They were fighting to see if the United States should remain one unified country. The

southern states wanted to separate and be a separate country. Since this war was

fought within a single country, families ended up fighting against each other. If one

brother lived in Maine and the other lived in Georgia, they often ended up fighting

against each other. Sons fought against fathers and cousins fought against other

cousins. This made the Civil War especially terrible. When the war was finally over the

people of the United States were happy, yet they also felt a lot of sadness for the

things that had occurred.

A man by the name of Henry C. Welles, from New York, felt that they should do

something to honor the soldiers who were returning home and the ones who had died.

He decided that his town should honor those who had died by placing flowers and

flags on their graves. They would also honor those soldiers who had come home by

having a parade on the way to the cemetery. He decided to call this day Decoration


The first Decoration Day was held on May 5, 1866. General John A. Logan had

a similar idea to Welles'. General Logan led a group called the Grand Army of the

Republic. He issued all members to decorate the graves of northern soldiers.

In 1868, the two days were combined into one day. In 1882 the Grand Army

of the Republic changed the name of Decoration Day to Memorial Day. They thought

it would be better to remember the dead soldiers who fought in all of the wars, not

just the Civil War. Memorial Day had been declared a legal holiday in the northern

states, but many of the southern states did not celebrate it. They celebrated a

holiday like it, but not on the same date. Each southern state celebrated it on a

different date.

In 1971, President Nixon declared that Memorial Day was a National Holiday.

Today many people celebrate Memorial Day by having family gatherings and picnics.

People remember their dead relatives on Memorial Day, not just those soldiers who

have died in wars. Many towns and organizations have ceremonies to celebrate

those who have died. This is often done by having moments of silence; parades with

marching bands; and by placing wreaths, flowers, and flags on graves. Even though

the name and dates have changed, Memorial Day is still a day that we celebrate

peace and remember those who have died.


Students will identify the reasons that Memorial Day is celebrated.

Students will identify ways that people express their patriotism (Poems, music,


Students will learn the reasons for war.

Students will learn the proper behavior while visiting a cemetery.

Time Allotment: 1 week


Construction paper/crayons/markers/scissors.

Library and other research materials.

Poem entitled When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again (see appendix)


A. Open Discussion - Ask the students what type of activities they do on Memorial

Day. Ask them if they know why we celebrate Memorial Day. Explain to the students

that Memorial Day originated because people wanted a way to remember those who

had died fighting for our country. Ask the students if any of their family members

have fought in a war. Ask the students if any of their family members have died

fighting for our country. Explain to the students the honor that is associated with

dying for your country in battle. Discuss with the students the different ways that we

decorate the graves of soldiers and those family members who have passed away.

This is usually done by leaving flags, flowers, and memorabilia on the headstones.

B. Choral Reading - Read the poem When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again (see

appendix) as a class. Divide the class in half. One half of the class will read the

sentences in the poem, while the other half will shout Hurrah! Hurrah! Discuss with

the students unfamiliar words and terms in this poem. Talk about the reasons why

this poem was written.

C. Research and Reports - Divide the class into groups. Assign each group to

research and report on a war that the United States has been involved in. Assign

each student in the group a subtopic to report on such as: the countries involved, the

reasons for the war, how long it lasted, how much it cost, how it was resolved.

D. Hands on - Have each student pretend that they are soldiers fighting for the

United States in a great war. Each soldier has fought bravely and heroically for their

country. Have the students design what they want their headstones to say about the

way they died and how they fought bravely for their country. Allow the students to

design and decorate their headstones.

E. Guided-Discussion - Discuss with the students the proper way to behave when they

are visiting a cemetery. There needs to be respect and honor demonstrated. Discuss

different types of materials used to decorate headstones, etc.


Questions and answers during discussion will be assessed.

Participation in choral reading will be assessed.

Oral presentation of the reports will be a method of assessment.

Inscriptions on headstones will assess students understanding of patriotism and



Background Information:

Labor Day

Labor Day is a holiday that has only been celebrated for the last 100 years or

so. At that time it wasn't a holiday that was celebrated all over the country, only in

New York City. There was a large variety of workers that lived in New York City at

that time. They included carpenters, brick layers, furniture makers, printers, and

others. Each craftsman was very proud of the work that he did. Many of the

workers in New York were immigrants from other countries. In those countries many

of the workers had special holidays on which they celebrated their fine craftsmanship.

These special holidays would include parades, picnics, and large gatherings to show

off their fine workmanship. There were no such holidays in the United States and the

workers missed the old ways. Many of the workers complained to the Central Labor

Union. On May 14, 188 in New York City it was decided that a large festival would be

held. This would be a time that the workers could show off their work, have a good

time, and discuss their current working conditions.

Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Macguire are credited with organizing this big

festival. The festival date was set for Monday, September 5, 1882. All types of

workers were invited, but the organizers were afraid that no one would come

because there had never been such a festival in the United States like this one.

On September 5, at 10:30 a.m., workers lined up to begin the parade. There

were only a handful of people there ready to march, but they decided to start the

parade anyway. Since the parade was so small, traffic wouldn't stop for them and

many of the marchers had to try and avoid wagons and streetcars. Suddenly, 200

jewelry workers came marching around the corner to join the parade. They had even

brought their own band. As the parade progressed down the street, many other

groups of workers joined in. There ended up being 10,000 people who marched in the

parade. Traffic came to a stop and thousands of people stood and watched.

After the parade, everyone gathered at a park and had a huge picnic. There

were speakers who talked about the importance of unions, ways to end child labor,

and ways to improve working conditions.

The first Labor Day was a huge success and other workers all over America

were interested in it becoming a National Holiday. Many cities passed Labor Day

Laws similar to the ones in New York. Then, states began to pass laws so that they

had a state Labor Day. By the 1930's every state in the United States celebrated

Labor Day. Labor Day helped tie the nations workers together. It helped pass many

laws to improve working conditions and end child labor. Many workers formed unions

to help change laws that could not have been done by an individual alone.


Students will identify the reasons that Labor Day is celebrated.

Students will identify the importance of cooperation and team work.

Students will learn what working conditions were like in the 1800's.

Time Allotment: 1 day


Cooperative Activity


A. Brainstorm - Ask students to identify the types of jobs that people work at now.

Write these on the board. Are they similar to the jobs that people did back when

they celebrated Labor Day for the first time? Do we still have cause to celebrate our

fine workmanship?

B. Discussion - Discuss with the students the working conditions that people were

forced to work under in the 1800's. Discuss with them child labor and how there

were no laws against children working. Ask the students how they would feel if they

were forced to go to work instead of being able to go to school, which was a

privilege then. Discuss with the students the importance of doing a good job and

being proud of the work you have done. Explain to the students that this was the

reason that we celebrate Labor Day, because laborers are proud of the work that

they do. Discuss the importance of cooperation and team work. This applies not

only to school and learning, but to the work environment also. Discuss how having a

National Holiday brings a country together because it is an experience we all have in


C. Listing - As a class, list rules or laws that would have helped to improve the

working conditions in the 1800's.

D. Group Cooperation - Divide the class into groups of three or four. Assign the

students a task that requires a great deal of cooperation. Explain to them how it is

important when they join the work force to be able to cooperate with their co-



Questions asked to students during the discussion are a way of assessing.

Responses to the listing activity will be assessed.

Monitoring of the groups during cooperation activity is a way of assessing.


Background Information

Columbus Day

Christopher Columbus was born during the fifteenth century in Genoa, Italy.

Christopher loved the sea. By the time he was 16 he knew how to navigate a sailing

vessel and had taken a voyage to Iceland. He then became a master map maker. At

that time, some well-educated people believe that the world was round and

Christopher Columbus was one of them. He wanted the opportunity to sail straight

into the horizon and prove his theory. He believed that he would come back to his

starting point and not fall off the edge of the world, as many people believed.

Columbus was given three ships by the Queen and King of Spain to test his

theory. He set sail on August 3, 1492. The journey was a long and dangerous one.

On October 11, they spotted land. Columbus arrived at what is now known as the

Bahamas. He thought that he had reached India and therefore called the natives

"Indians". For ten days Columbus and his men explored the islands. He then set sail

back to Spain and took back with him six native Indians, plus parrots and other

animals from the new world.

In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation asked that October 12

(the day that Columbus arrived in the New World) be observed as a National Holiday.


Students will identify the steps in Columbus' journey and discovery of America.

Students will learn the importance of using compasses.

Students will write about discovering their own country.

Time Allotment: 2 days


Poem entitled Christopher Columbus (see appendix).

Materials to make a compass.

Bowl of water




Writing Journals.


A. Discussion - Discuss with the students in depth the details of Christopher

Columbus' journey to the New World. Discuss with them the trials he went through

before and after his journey. Discuss with the students why pilgrims came to this

country. Discuss with the students why we recognize Columbus as a hero.

B. Choral Reading - Divide the class into 8 groups. Have each group read a stanza

of the poem Christopher Columbus (see appendix). Discuss with the students the

different locations mentioned in this poem, along with unfamiliar words.

C. Columbus Day Compass - You will need: 1 small bowl of water, magnets, needles,

and corks. To make this compass rub the magnet over the needle 50 times in the

same direction to magnetize the needle. Put the needle into the cork and place it into

the bowl of water. Turn the cork in many directions and let it go. It will always come

to rest pointing north. Discuss with the students the type of compass that Columbus

used. Discuss with the students way that we can find our way without the use of

compasses (stars, moss on trees, etc.)

D. Discovering Your Own Country - Students will imagine that they are explorers who

have set sail to discover a new country. Have the students write in their journals

describing what the country that they have discovered will look like; what type of

animals, plants, and people they will discover; and what they will do after they

discover the country. Have the students draw a map of what their country will look



Participation in choral reading will be assessed.

Journal activity will be assessed (for thought and detail).


Background Information:

Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day is celebrated on November 11th and has been observed for

many years. Prior to 1954, it was called Armistice Day. The very first Armistice Day

occurred on November 11, 1918. This day signified the day that the peace treaty

was signed by Germany and the Allies, ending World War I. An armistice is a truce or

cease fire just before the signing of a peace treaty.

On the very first Armistice Day, journalist George Honey, an Australian, called

for two minutes of silence as the peace treaty was signed. This tradition of a "Great

Silence" is continued today. There are also numerous parades held on this day to

celebrate Veterans from World War II, the Korean Wars, and the Vietnam War. Flags

are flown in public places. Artificial poppies are sold by Veterans on this day. They

are symbols of the soldiers who have not died in vain. The money raised from these

poppies is used to help wounded war veterans. Many ceremonies at tombs of

soldiers take place on this day also.

Armistice Day was changed to Veteran's Day because veterans wanted

November 11th to be a day honoring soldiers of all wars in which Americans fought,

not just World War I. This was changed on May 24, 1954 by an act of Congress and

signed into law on June 1, 1954 by President Eisenhower.


Students will identify the reasons that Veteran's Day is celebrated.

Students will learn about being involved in a war.

Students will identify the ways that we remember those who have died in wars.

Students will identify different types of military uniforms and what they stand


Time Allotment: 1 to 2 days


Red Crepe Paper

Green Pipe Cleaners

Construction Paper/crayons/markers/scissors.


A. Discussion - Discuss with the students the importance of having respect for those

who have fought bravely for their country. Discuss how Veteran's Day is a day to

pay thanks to those who have fought in wars for the United States.

B. Guest Speaker - Have a guest speaker come and talk about their experiences

being a veteran, and their experiences in the war. Contact your local VFW Hall for

further help and information.

C. Let's Make Poppies - Would you like to make poppies to wear and give to your

friends on Memorial Day? It is easy to do. You will need only a few supplies.

Red crepe paper and green pipe cleaners. Cut out two four-inch circles of crepe paper

for each poppy. Put one circle over the other. Make two holes in the center, going through

both circles. Put the end of a pipe cleaner up through one hole, bend it, and bring it down

through the other. Twist to tie. The long end of the pipe cleaner is the stem. You can put it in your

buttonhole. Smooth the crepe paper petals of the poppy.

D. Design Your Own Flag - Have the students design their own flag that is a

representation of them, just as our flat is a representation of our country. Have the

students present the flags to the class and tell what their flag stands for.

E. Display of Uniforms - If possible, have different uniforms worn by soldiers on

display for the class to see. Discuss the different uniforms and metals for each one.

If possible have a veteran come in and share these with the students.


Participation during discussion and guest speaker will be assessed.

Design and representation on flag will be assessed.

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