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Capitalizing on the Holidays—A Reader’s Question

September 30, 2015 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified September 30, 2015

No, we’re not going to take advantage of holidays. We’re going to look at the proper capitalization of holidays and holiday terms.

A reader asked about capitalizing holiday names. Her question, edited, and my answer, expanded upon, follow.

None of the top-gun style guides address these [holidays and holiday greetings]. With the holidays approaching, I’d like to know which words to correctly capitalize.


Holidays, both religious and secular, are typically capitalized. As are religious seasons. (Not winter, spring, summer, and fall but seasons such as Advent and Lent.)

Holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving (in the US), Halloween, New Year’s Day, and Boxing Day (in the UK) are always capitalized.

When the words day and eve are part of the holiday name, capitalize them as well.

Even when the holiday name is shortened—for example, from New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day) to New Year’s—capitalize the shortened name.

Most holidays on which businesses are closed (think national holidays) are capitalized. Most church holidays and holy days are capitalized, whether or not those days are recognized by governments.

Many national holidays correspond to battle victories or celebrations of important national events. Many religious holidays are connected to special events in the history of the religion.

I’ve included a variety of holidays to give you an idea of different categories, yet this list isn’t exhaustive. Check a dictionary for holidays not listed here.


All Saints’ Day

Australia Day

Bastille Day

Boxing Day

Canada Day

Christmas (also Christmas Day and Christmas Eve)

Coming of Age Day (Japan)



Father’s Day

Good Friday


Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, Holy Week

Independence Day (US) also the Fourth of July and July Fourth


Labor Day (US)

Labour Day (Canada and other nations)


Martin Luther King Jr. Day (US)

Maundy Thursday

May Day

Memorial Day

Michaelmas (the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel)

Mother’s Day

New Year’s (also New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve)


Presidents’ Day



Remembrance Day

Rosh Hashanah

St George’s Day (no period or full stop with St in BrE)

St. Patrick’s Day (also Saint or St Patrick’s Day)

Thanksgiving (also Thanksgiving Day)

the High Holy Days

Twelfth Night

Valentine’s Day

Veterans Day (no apostrophe)

Victoria Day (Canada)

Victory Day (Russia)

Yom Kippur


While holidays and holy days are capitalized, many holiday greetings (except for the words always capitalized) are not.

In running text—not titles or headlines—the following phrases are not capitalized. Exceptions for proper nouns and words that come at the beginning of a sentence.

season’s greetings

happy birthday

happy anniversary

happy or merry Christmas

happy Thanksgiving

happy holidays

happy New Year

A few examples in sentences:

Merry Christmas! (Merry is capitalized because it comes at the beginning of the sentence.)

I wish you a very merry Christmas.

Happy birthday! (Happy is capitalized because it comes at the beginning of the sentence.)

Have a truly happy birthday, Tammy.

Happy holidays!

He wished you happy holidays and season’s greetings before he left.

We’ll be out of town for the winter holidays.

Note that new year isn’t always capitalized. Reserve the capital letters for the holiday itself, not for the words new year.

I hope the new year is a good one for you.


If you have questions about other holiday greetings, please ask about them. I may add additional holidays and holy days.



Tags: ,     Posted in: A Reader Asks..., Grammar & Punctuation

16 Responses to “Capitalizing on the Holidays—A Reader’s Question”

  1. Pat says:

    Question related to capitalization:
    Is it correct to capitalize terms of endearment? One of my characters is very old world/old fashioned. He refers to his wife as “my Heart” or “my Love” when he addresses her.

    Is this correct form?

    • Jake Houck says:

      Unsure about this one.

      Have a happy new year…or…Have a Happy New Year.

      Not sure whether we’re referring to “New Year” as part of the holiday or as a generic reference. Would we cap “New Year” in the example above?

      BTW, great post, Beth! Wow! That covers everything! Awesome job as usual.

      • Jake Houck says:

        Didn’t mean to cap “happy” above.

        Is it—

        Have a happy New Year.


        Have a happy new year.


        • Jake Houck says:

          Hello, Beth—

          Are these capped midsentence? And where do the apostrophes go?

          It was Secretary’s Day — or Secretaries Day — or Secretaries’ Day (?)

          It was Administrative Professional’s Day — or Administrative Professionals Day — or Administrative Professionals’ Day (?)

          It was April Fool’s Day — or April Fools Day — or April Fools’ Day (?)

          Thank you kindly. :-)

          • Secretaries Day, Administrative Professionals Day, April Fool’s Day.

            Many holidays and special days are in the dictionary. If you can’t find them in a current dictionary, look for the source of the special day (perhaps a government entity or company or association). While some holidays contain an apostrophe, most wouldn’t. Capitalize special days and holidays, even if they’re fictional for a story.

  2. Pat, we typically don’t capitalize endearments.

    If an endearment became a nickname—I’d like you to meet my wife, Princess; This is Doc—then you would capitalize the name.

    This practice of not capping endearments isn’t a rule set in stone, however. So you might want to argue that capping them is a style choice. Yet you don’t often see darlin’, sweetie, or honey capped.

    I definitely recommend that you not cap one word out of a phrase beginning with my. So no my Heart or my Love. And we wouldn’t capitalize the word my.

    The endearment my heart should be sufficient to convey the old-world feel of this character’s endearments.

    I hope that helps.

  3. Mary says:

    Thank you in advance for helping me with an apostrophe dilemma that has me in knots.
    My problem sentences have the term “electronic weapons attacks.” My heart tells me to write electronic weapons’ attacks. But prior learning tells me that the apostrophe is wrong here as the attacks are not possessed by the weapons, but by the people using the weapons. Example: “They are responsible for electronic weapons’ attacks.”
    Thank you.

  4. Mary, in your example you wouldn’t use an apostrophe. Weapons is plural, but not possessive, as you yourself said. Substitute a singular noun for comparison—

    They are responsible for rocket attacks.

    You wouldn’t use the possessive or an apostrophe here, with rocket.

    Both rocket and electronic weapons are simply modifiers for the word attacks.

    If the wording bothers you, you can always reword—

    They are responsible for attacking with electronic weapons.

  5. Writing an historical fiction novel based loosely on my mother’s childhood. What if I am referring to the Fourth of July (which comes up a great deal in several chapter) and, for variety’s sake, am just saying the Fourth sometimes. Should it be The Fourth, the Fourth, or the fourth? Currently, I am writing the Fourth.
    Another issue I have is when characters who are related call each other son, daughter, granddaughter, etc. I know there would be a capital on Mama, Daddy, Grandma, etc. when used as a name, but feel I have dropped the ball on the other family terms. One thing: I DON’T think I should capitalize “son” if someone is just saying that to a boy- ANY boy- as a general term, like: “Who are you son? Where did you come from?” But maybe I am wrong on that, too?
    Am rather desperate for help here.

  6. Well, here I am writing again, only somewhat cleared of my confusion. y the way, to all who wonder, I do know, and regret leaving out the comma before “son” in my previous entry. Anyway, have found a published novel centered on the Fourth of July where they repeatedly say, “The Fourth”, so I’m good to go there.
    My problem now is still with capitalizing son, daughter, grandson, etc. when family members are being addressed. Another things: this novel takes place in 1930, and in a very small town. I have the mother and others say things like, “Your Aunt Abby was asking after you at church.” I have used the capital on Aunt, even though it follows “your”, but it seems like it would look very strange to do otherwise. Please, can anyone out there help me? Thank you, Tamara

  7. martel says:

    Happy Birthday, Nick! Is this not correct? birth and day are 2 separate words but together in this sentence, it is suggesting a specific date. So this should be capitalized, right?

    • Martel, we see it capitalized all the time on cards and in other greetings so we think happy birthday needs to be capped, but it doesn’t. We wouldn’t capitalize happy holidays or good morning either. Birthday is just a regular noun.

  8. 83momoko says:

    Hello! I have a capitalization question. In the sentence , do the words “costume” and “day” need to be capitalized?

    • 83momoko says:

      Hello! I have a capitalization question. In the sentence “It’s costume day!”, do the words “costume” and “day” need to be capitalized?
      (sorry about that!)

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