Difference between holiday and vacation

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600 Confusing English Words Explained E-Book

Right now it’s just a couple days away from Christmas, which is a major holiday in the United States. So in today’s lesson I’m going to teach you about the difference between the words holiday and vacation. English learners often ask me about this, and it’s a little more complicated than you might think!


The word holiday is used for important days that are celebrated by a lot of people. Holidays are celebrated usually by your whole country or whole culture. Examples of holidays include Christmas for Christians, Ramadan for Muslims, and Passover for Jewish people.

Holidays can have religious significance, like the ones I mentioned, or holidays can be important historical dates, like Independence Day, which is July 4th in the U.S. We also have holidays that commemorate important people, like Martin Luther King Jr. day, to remember an important civil rights activist., and Memorial Day, which honors people who died while serving in the military.

During holidays, a lot of businesses and schools close and many people have days off from work – although this depends on how major or minor the holiday is. And the celebration of holidays often involves traditions like decorations, parades, or special foods.

What’s your favorite holiday? Try to describe it in English.

Difference between holiday and vacation Espresso English


The word vacation refers to your personal time off from work or school – usually an extended time, not just one day – and vacations often involve traveling. So I might take a week off from work so I can go on vacation to South America; I will travel to South America, and I won’t work during that time.

Some people go on vacations to the beach, others go to the mountains, others go to another city, or to the countryside, or to an amusement park. What did you do on your last vacation? Speak or write about it in English.

Difference between holiday and vacation Espresso English

But here’s where it gets tricky – when you’re in the middle of a vacation, again, that’s personal time off from work or school which usually involve traveling, American English speakers say you are on vacation, and British English speakers say you are on holiday.

OK? In American English, a holiday is a special day like Christmas or Independence day, and a vacation is time off from work when you usually travel. But in British English, the word holiday is used for both these things.

Happy Holidays!

One common expression you’ll often hear in December in the United States is “Happy Holidays!” – wishing someone a nice season of celebration, regardless of whether they celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another special time.

Happy holidays to you! Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep receiving my English lessons as we head into the new year.

Learn to understand the differences between confusing words:

Difference between holiday and vacation Espresso English

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