Why the UK has the better system for public holidays

tooltip on Datawrapper mapPhoto by Carolyn V

Another week, another table! Hi, this is Lisa. I’m responsible for the blog and general communication at Datawrapper.

In German, the time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is called “between the years” (zwischen den Jahren). I like the image this phrase provokes: It’s not quite 2020 anymore because it’s so close to 2021, but it’s also not 2021 yet. It’s an in-between-space, where time doesn’t move like it does the rest of the year. The time between Christmas and New Year’s, is it three days or a week or two? Until a few years ago, I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. It just wasn’t important.

Except when it is because you’re an employee now and you need to save up enough of your precious vacation days to not work over the holidays.

Depending on the year, this calculation is more or less fun. If you want to take off between Christmas Eve and January 1st in Germany (or Italy, or Scandinavia, or many other countries), you need to save up five days. That’s this year. Last year, it was only four. Next year, it will be six:

That’s not awesome. When December 25th falls on a Saturday, the Christmas holidays don’t feel very different from a simple weekend for a big part of the population. And, yeah, you need more vacation days.

Some countries implemented a different system. If a public holiday falls on a weekend, they move it to the next workday – called “substitute holiday”, “alternative holiday”, or “day in lieu”. The United Kingdom (and Australia) do this:

It takes a while to get behind this system. When you live in the rest of Europe or the US, you know that shops will be closed on December 25th, every year. In the UK, you might get surprised by closed shops on December 28th.

But think of all these saved vacation days: Between 2019 and 2024 alone, an employee in Germany needs to take 26 days of Christmas vacations in total. In the UK, that’s four days less.

And the consequences for businesses? Yes, employees take more days off, but this doesn’t need to be a bad thing for companies. And independent brick-and-mortar shops, who often make their most money on weekends, are mostly happy if a holiday is on a Monday instead of a Saturday.

I’m all up for it[1].

Table choices

I used quite a few of our Datawrapper table features to show the German and British holiday system:

  • The table title works as a color key. Learn more in this Academy article.
  • With the option “Color cells based on categories”, I colored the background of each weekend day or holiday.
  • I uploaded country codes (like :de:) in the dates column and then turned on “Replace country codes with flags”. Learn more in this Academy article.
  • And I turned off “Make sortable” and used our row settings to bolden the text in the last (two) rows showing the needed vacation days.

As always, you can hover over the tables and click on “Edit this chart” to see which settings I used and how.

Happy holidays! I hope you can take all the vacation days you want and need.


Next week, our developer Ivan will map all the research stations on Antarctica. (Spoiler: There are many, and it’s beautiful!) At the end of the year, I’ll be back to answer the question: Which chart types have Datawrapper users published the most in data-viz-heavy 2020? See you then!


  1. By the way, here’s a part of the UK system that the rest of the world shouldn’t adapt: Your employer doesn’t have to give you paid leave on public holidays in the UK. ↩︎

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