In the United States, we have 10 public holidays, including today, Presidents’ Day.
That’s about an average number if you consider the world over. But, for wealthier, industrialized countries, it’s actually slightly below average.
But it is hard to make much of a judgment on a country based on how many holidays it has.
Based on a 2011 study done of 62 major industrialized countries, the country with the most public holidays is Colombia, with 18. Colombia has a reputation for being a pretty conservative country. But according to ABC News, in the last year or two, Colombia has been passed by its fellow South American country, Argentina, which is developing a markedly left-wing reputation. Under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country now has 19 public holidays.
But even some countries known as being left wing have fewer holidays than the U.S. For instance, Communist Cuba has only 9, along with more leftist or liberal countries like Ecuador, Denmark, Switzerland, and Canada. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom both have only 8.
Yet, some of the world’s most repressive countries actually have more public holidays than we do. Most of them weren’t covered by that 2011 study, but I did a little checking myself.
A lot of countries have holidays that are confined to specific regions, ethnic groups, or religions. Sometimes, there will be government holidays not always acknowledged by the private sector. Nevertheless, the results are still surprising.
Iran, a Shi’ite Islam religious theocracy, has as many as 18 public holidays. And the country with the most holidays I found anywhere in the world was Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Sunni nemesis, with as many as 22 government holidays every year in some regions.
A lot of these days come from two Muslim holidays that take multiple days, and are observed throughout the Middle East. (Which is why Lebanon rates so high in the 2011 study, with 16 public holidays).
But it’s not just in the Middle East. In Asia, one country with a surprisingly strong showing is none other than international pariah North Korea, arguably the most repressive government anywhere in the world right now, with no fewer than 20 public holidays every year, according to one source.
Even Belarus narrowly beats the United States, with 11 public holidays to our 10.
So, the level of freedom, liberalism, conservatism, or economic prosperity has, in the end, very little to do with how many days a year people get to take a break. So, when you’re annoyed to find your bank closed today, just think: in some countries, where the quality of life is far worse than here, it happens even more often.