Be Aware of Important Holidays when Managing Employees Abroad

News Updates

New Year’s Day is commonly celebrated around the globe. Other holidays, such as the Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck and Coming of Age Day, are less well-known yet just as important in certain countries and regions.

Global HR consultancy Mercer's recently released 2013 Worldwide Benefit & Employment Guidelines report includes a review of national holidays observed in 63 countries.

“Companies conducting business across borders should have a solid understanding of each market’s statutory requirements and observance dates regarding holidays, as well as the significance and customs surrounding each holiday,” said Samantha Polovina in a news release. Polovina, who compiled the report, leads product and content development for Global Insights, a division of Mercer’s information business department.

A majority of countries set aside a national day of remembrance for a significant battle or other military event, according to the report. Mercer also found that among the 63 countries it surveyed, all but four observe at least one religious holiday.

The Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, for example, that Maltans celebrate on Feb. 10 in the city of Valletta, commemorates the date in AD 59 that the early Christian was shipwrecked on the island nation. While the ship was repaired, he worked many miracles and “effectively founded the Catholic Church in this country,” according to the site Blog of a Country Priest. It is a national holiday and religious feast day. Feast days, notes one Malta tourism site, are the life of the island.

Coming of Age Day on the second Monday in January celebrates young people in Japan who reached the age of majority—20, considered a lucky number—between April 1 of the previous year and March 31 of the new year. Municipal governments host ceremonies, parades take place, and gifts are given to the new adults who have reached the minimum legal age to vote, smoke and drink alcohol. The young men wear suits and many unmarried women in Japan wear the furisode, a special formal kimono, for what is considered an important public holiday and rite of passage in Japan, according to a Lonely Planet video.

Brazil celebrates Tiradentes Day on April 21, in observance of the death in 1792 of Joaquim Jose de Silva Xavier, who led that country’s liberation movement from Portugal. Silva Xavier had been a miner, cattleman and dentist—and known by the nickname Tiradentes or “tooth puller”—but it was while serving as a “low-level public official” that he became aware of the exploitation of Brazilians working the gold mines, according to the website He founded a movement to fight for Brazilian independence and was tried and hanged for his efforts. Thirty years later Brazil became a republic and Tiradentes was recognized as a national hero. Tiradentes Day is a public holiday; schools, banks and all government offices are closed.

Some holidays are recognized around the world but haven’t reached official status outside of certain regions or countries. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela, for example, all celebrate Carnival, and observance of the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year is mostly limited to China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. In China it’s a public holiday that lasts several days. 

The most commonly celebrated holidays, according to Mercer, are:

  • New Year’s Day, observed in 60 countries. Russia celebrates an entire week; in 2014 the observance will last from Wednesday, Jan. 1 to Wednesday, Jan. 8.
  • Independence Day/National Constitution Day, observed in 59 countries.
  • Christmas, observed in 53 countries.
  • May Day/Labor Day, celebrated in 51 countries.
  • Good Friday, a solemn holy day commemorating the day Jesus Christ was crucified and occurring three days before Easter Sunday. It is observed in 32 countries.