Are you just back from holiday – or vacation? At first sight, holiday and vacation might seem to mean the same thing, but which word people use depends on who they are, where they are, what their job is and who decides they can have time off!
The British go on holiday (on hols for short), but Americans go on vacation. The British, when lying on the beach on the Costa del Sol, are holidaymakers holidaying in Spain, while their American cousins, lounging on Miami Beach, are vacationers vacationing.
The word holiday comes from holy day, a religious festival, and in the US, holiday is reserved for days that really do have a religious origin (like Christmas Day and Easter Day), and, by extension, to paid public holidays, like New Year’s Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day. Americans will often wish each other Happy Holidays around Christmas, especially if they wish to make their greeting neutral as far as religion is concerned.
Public holidays in Britain, designated by the government, are known as bank holidays. They were originally days when the banks were shut. Now they’re general holidays, often on a Monday.
The word vacation is also used in Britain for the holiday periods at universities and law courts. It’s sometimes shortened to vac, so students may talk about the long vac, the summer vac, etc. At American universities, such periods are usually called a recess (the summer recess, the fall recess, etc.), the word also used by the British parliament and the US Congress for their breaks.
©2013 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands