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January 13, 2016

What is Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

Martin Luther King Jr. day falls on the third Monday of every January (In 2020 - January 20). Meant to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s (here after, MLK) birthday, it's a day to observe the ideals of MLK including interracial harmony, non-violence, and civil rights. (Ironically, due to this, "Civil Rights Day" is another name sometimes used for this day as well.) 

What is Martin Luther King Jr. Day? 
The short video below will introduce you to this holiday, which though initiated in the US, is also observed in Toronto, Canada and Hiroshima, Japan. 

When did Martin Luther King day start?
Though the previous video did introduce the answer this question, the below video is a news clip from 1983 featuring then President Ronald Reagan inaugurating this federal holiday. While it was inaugurated in 1983, it has only been since the year two thousand (2000), that all states have adopted the holiday.

Do I wish "Happy Martin Luther King day?" 
This was a question that was asked to me in an American cross-cultural training recently. Where I am from in upstate New York, I had never heard this greeting. While doing some Google searches on this, there are contrasting opinions on using the greeting. Maybe better than greeting, "Happy MLK day." we could ask, "Do you observe MLK day?"

Who gets a holiday or day off of work for this holiday?
As this is a federal holiday, school children (grades 1-12) and all government employees do not have to go to school or the office. Due to this, there is no mail services, and almost all banks are closed. Some banks, like ESL Federal Credit Union, also go the extra mile to inform their customers if and how they can access banking services on this day. College students, hourly (minimum wage) earners, and most corporate employees do not have the day off. Very few offices have the day off (though it has been becoming popular to take it as a 'flex holiday').

When is Martin Luther King Jr. Day? 
Photo of Martin Luther King, JrAs noted in the opening of this article, MLK day falls on the THIRD MONDAY of every January. This means that while it falls on the same day in January each year, the date changes. 
What date does MLK fall on in 2020?  January 20, 2020
What date does MLK fall on in 2021?  January 18, 2017
What date does MLK fall on in 2022?  January 17, 2018
What date does MLK fall on in 2023? January 16, 2019 
What date does MLK fall on in 2024? January 15, 2019
What date does MLK fall on in 2025? January 20, 2019

How do people celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day?
MLK Day has also been dubbed the MLK Day of Service (as in the video below). On this day, people of all ages volunteer in their local communities in various types of social projects. In addition to this, other ways to observe this day include learning about world leaders that promoted tolerance and non-violence (including Gandhi and Mandela), parades, listening to MLK speeches or movies about his mission, and other related activities. See the news clipping below to see how some ordinary people and the President of the US, Obama observe this day.

My thoughts on MLK day.
Martin Luther King Jr. day is not only for Americans. The ideals of MLK day apply to everyone in every nook and cranny of the world. Personally, I feel everyday is a good day to observe peace and understanding of those different than us. If there is any lesson we can learn from MLK and apply to our lives it is to have an open mind and try our best always not to approach others with a negative mindset. Also, to approach difficult discussions and situations with a non-violent approach. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in this world." The change in this world starts within each of us, or the man or woman we see in the mirror! 

Jennifer Kumar, author of this blog is a corporate coach helping Indians understand the US popular and corporate culture to bridge the culture gap in the office. To learn more, contact us today. 

Related Posts:
The inappropriateness of saying, "Happy MLK day." 
Glossary of terms of non-violence 
Indians Observing MLK Day in the US  

Photo credits: Public Affairs at Flickr
Updated Jan. 2020

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We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.