Public holidays are generally days of celebration. They can be the anniversary of a significant historical event or a religious celebration.
Most Kenyans look forward to all public holidays as this implies time off work and school for relaxing with family and friends.
Most importantly, if a holiday falls on a Friday or a Monday then it causes much excitement for a long weekend.
During these public holidays, most businesses and public companies are closed except for service firms and organizations that provide essential services such as police stations, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and supermarkets, hospitals, among others.
Recently, there has been a trend in which celebrations to mark some national holidays are held in the counties, a departure from the past when all such events were held in Nairobi.2016 was the first time that the celebrations were held outside of the capital city.
This article shares a detailed list of all the official holidays in Kenya that you should mark on your calendar.
What is the Kenya Gazette?
The Kenya Gazette is an official publication of the government of the Republic of Kenya.
The Kenya Gazette publishes the following:
1. Notices of new legislation
2. Notices required to be published by law or policy
3. Announcements for general public information
The publication takes place every week, usually on Friday, with occasional releases of special or supplementary editions within the week.
The Minister may at any time if he thinks fit, by notice in the Gazette, declare any day to be a public holiday either in addition to the days mentioned in the Public Holidays Act or in substitution for any of those days.
However, some of the gazetted public holidays in Kenya have varying dates from one year to the next, though the significance remains the same.
Where, in any year, a day in public falls on a Sunday, then the first succeeding day, not being a public holiday, shall be a public holiday and the first-mentioned day shall cease to be a public holiday.
List of Gazetted Public Holidays in Kenya
New Year (January 1st)
New Year’s Day is the first day of the year, in the Gregorian calendar, and falls exactly one week after the Christmas Day of the previous year.
New Year’s Day is a public holiday in all countries that observe the Gregorian calendar, with the exception of Israel. This makes it the world’s most widely observed public holiday.
Some countries may also have 2nd January as an additional New Year holiday.
It is traditionally celebrated with firework displays across the globe at 00:00 in the local time zones.
Good Friday (March or April)
Good Friday also referred to as Holy Friday or Great Friday is a big Christian holiday to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus as well as his death at Calvary.
Even though the dates for the holiday vary from one year to year, this is considered a public holiday in Kenya.
The holiday is on the Friday before Easter Sunday. Sometimes, it can coincide with the Jewish Passover and is also called the Great Friday, Black Friday and Holy Friday.
Easter Sunday (March or April)
Easter Sunday holiday comes two days after Good Friday.
The holiday celebrates the resurrection of Christ and marks the end of Lent/Holy Week for Christians.
It is celebrated on a Sunday and overflows to Monday which is a public holiday in Kenya.
The Easter Sunday date is the first Sunday on or after and ecclesiastical full moon.
Labour Day (May 1st)
Labour Day, also known as International Workers Day or May Day is a public holiday that is recognized in various countries worldwide to appreciate the struggle of working individuals.
In Kenya, Labour Day is celebrated on May 1 but the date varies in the different countries.
On this day, most Kenyans do not go to work but instead, attend a public event which is normally brought together by the Worker’s union.
Most working Kenyans usually have a lot expectation from the government on this day. Most of the Labour Day, which are usually held at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, usually see the President of Kenya or the Chairman of the worker’s union give a speech addressing the workers.
This day signifies issues surrounding the working individual. There are three things that are usually addressed during this day.
1. Salary increment- All working individuals should have a salary increment subject to the high cost of living and the economic situation.
2. Health and safety of workers- Every employer in Kenya should ensure that their employees work in a conducive environment that meet the health standards as outlined in the constitution.
3. Workers constitutional rights- On this day, all workers as supposed to receive the utmost attention and respect. They should also get the necessary recognition for they work they do towards the development of the country.
Madaraka Day (June 1st)
Madaraka Day is celebrated as a national holiday in Kenya on June 1st.
Madaraka is the Swahili word for ‘power’ and Madraka Day is a public holiday that commemorates the day that Kenya took power when it attained internal self-rule in 1963.
The first colonialists from Europe to have a presence in Kenya were German. In 1890, the region came under the control of the Imperial British East Africa Company, and Kenya was part of the British East Africa protectorate from 1895 until it became a British crown colony in 1920.
Disputes over land were common, leading to the Mau Mau rebellion by the Kikuyu people in 1952, which effectively put Kenya into a state of emergency for the next seven years.
The first direct elections took place in 1957, with the Kenya African National Union led by Jomo Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu, forming the first government.
On June 1st 1963, Kenya became a self-governing country when Jomo Kenyatta became the first prime minister.
Full independence from British rule followed on December 12th 1963 when Kenya became an independent nation.
This is one of the three national holidays created by Article 8 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
Eid ul Fitr (Date depending upon the appearance of the moon)
This is one of the official holidays that are celebrated nationally in the country.
The Muslim community around the world observe the day to mark the end of the Holy month of Ramadhan where they get to reflect on how their devotions have effectively impacted on their lives.
The celebration is a culmination of 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan.
During the celebrations, Muslims conduct morning prayers which are held in open grounds after which they proceed home to celebrate with neighbours, friends, family and the poor.
Kenyans take time off work and school to join their Muslim counterparts who celebrate the day attending communal prayers and handing charity to the less privileged.
Eid ul Fitr dates vary every year depending on when the Month of Ramadhan began.
Eid Ul Adha (Date depending upon the appearance of the moon)
Eid-ul-Adha, which is celebrated by Muslims across the world, is an important part of the Islamic calendar alongside Eid-ul-Fitr.
Of the two Eid celebrations, Eid ul-Adha is often considered the holiest.
The festival commemorates the willingness of Abraham to follow Allah’s (God’s) command to sacrifice his son.
It is marked during Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Eid-ul-Adha falls on the tenth day of Dhul-hijjah, the month of the pilgrimage, and lasts four days.
Muslims are not required to observe the fast for the nine days, only those who choose.
During the festival, Muslims often slaughter a sheep, lamb, camel or goat and divide the meat into three parts.
A third is kept by the family, a third is given to friends and relatives, and a third is donated to the poor.
Dates, however, may vary from one region to the next based on the official sightings of the crescent moon.
In the Islamic calendar, the sighting of the crescent moon determines when a month ends and a new one begins.
This not only causes slight date differences across the world, but the dates also drift back by 11 days each year from the Western Calendar which is based on the sun.
Moi Day (October 10th)
Moi Day is public holiday that was established to honour the former president of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi.
However, this holiday was scrapped off the list of gazetted public holiday in Kenya in 2010 following the declaration of the new constitution.
For seven years, Kenyans did not celebrate the holiday on the 10th of October as was the norm.
Nevertheless, a ruling by Justice George Odunga back in November 2017, reinstated the Moi day as one of the Kenyan holidays.
For the first time in seven years, Kenyans got time off work and school and unless amended by parliament, Moi day shall remain a public holiday in the country for years to come.
Mashujaa Day (October 20th)
Mashujaa Day also known as heroes’ day is celebrated on the 20th of October every year in Kenya.
The word Mashujaa is a heavy Swahili word that directly translates to Heroes. There was a trail of blood, betrayal, and suffering of innocent people and selfless heroes before we could claim our freedom as a nation.
The public holiday aims at honouring Kenyans forefathers who fought for us to get independence from the British colonialists.
Initially, the day was known as Kenyatta Day and it was in honour of our country’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
Jamhuri Day (December 12th)
This is one of the biggest national holidays in Kenya.
The term ‘Jamhuri’ is of Swahili origin and it means republic.
This is the day that commemorates the official date of Kenya’s independence that occurred on 12th December 1964.
Even though Kenya attained self -rule on the 1st June 1963, it is only on the 12th December 1964, that it was fully independent from the United Kingdom.
Christmas Day (December 25th)
Christmas Day is another international public holiday that is marked by billions of people in most countries of the world on the 25th December.
The date venerates the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and is one of the most important dates for Christians worldwide.
In Kenya, Christmas day is considered a special time for Kenyans to spend with their families and it is the one time most people travel to their rural homes.
In Kenya, Christmas is celebrated through gifts giving, church services, singing of carols and going to parties.
Boxing Day (Decemner 26th)
Boxing Day comes a day after Christmas and it is celebrate each year on the 26th December.
It originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated in a number of countries that previously formed part of the British Empire.
The holiday is meant to commemorate the time when the wealthy in the U.K would offer a box of gifts to their servants.
Kenya, being one of the nations colonized by the British adopted the holiday and it is one of the gazette holidays in the country. Today, the day is marked with opening of gifts given during Christmas day
Diwali also known as festival of the lights is an important auspicious holiday in the Hindi calendar.
Even though Diwali is not among the gazetted public holidays in Kenya, Kenyan Hindus for many years have jubilantly marked the holiday as they take off a day from work and school to honour their rituals.
The dates for the holiday vary from one year to the next since they have to coincide with the night that will be the darkest in the Hindu Lunisolar month of Kartika.