What is Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

Posted On: January 13, 2016

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? 

This holiday, though initiated in the US, is also observed in Toronto, Canada and Hiroshima, Japan. Learn more about it in this video by PBS Kids.

Interestingly, according to this video by Stuff You Should Know – HowStuffWorks, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. In 1983, the first MLK day was celebrated nationally. Though not all states participated, and one particular state held out until 1993.

When did Martin Luther King day start?

Though the previous video did introduce the answer this question, this 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? 
As 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, 2021
What date does MLK fall on in 2022?  January 17, 2022
What date does MLK fall on in 2023? January 16, 2023
What date does MLK fall on in 2024? January 15, 2024
What date does MLK fall on in 2025? January 20, 2025


Historical Marker for Martin Luther King Jr.


How do people celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day?
MLK Day has also been dubbed the MLK Day of Service. On this day, people of all ages volunteer in their local communities in various types of social projects, as in this video where students participate in various community projects to uplift the citizens. 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.

Updated Jan. 2020, May 2020
Photo credits: Jennifer Kumar


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