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What is Citizenship Day?

By Steve R.
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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Citizenship Day is celebrated annually on 17 September. The federally-observed holiday coincides with the creating and signing of the U.S. Constitution at the Constitution Convention in 1787. Citizenship Day is an occasion to pay tribute to all the individuals who have become American citizens. Also, the holiday is the first day of Constitution Week.

Each year on the holiday, the president of the United States may issue a decree recommending that government officials exhibit the American flag on government buildings and encourage the United States population to celebrate with various ceremonies and activities. The idea for the holiday stems back to 1939 when newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst lobbied in his publications to establish some type of commemoration of American citizenship. In 1940, Congress enacted a resolution asking the president to reserve the third Monday in May as a day for the public to commemorate individuals who have become citizens of the United States. This day was originally known as “I am an American Day.”

Congress eventually rescinded the resolution and, in 1952 enacted a new law to shift the date from May to 17 September to observe the signing of the U.S. Constitution. When the date was moved, it also was renamed “Citizenship Day.” In 2004, United States Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia recommended that new facets be added to Citizenship Day. These include that on 17 September, the heads of federal agencies offer workers educational and supporting material regarding the U.S. Constitution, and that any educational institutions that receive federal subsidizing coordinate educational programming regarding the U.S. Constitution.

Schools and agencies may celebrate Citizenship Day and Constitution Week in different fashions. One of the most common methods is to pass out free copies of the U.S. Constitution. Other ways organizations may recognize the holiday and Constitution Week is through plays, essays, and trivia contests. If the recognized holiday happens to fall on a weekend, schools and other agencies may observe the commemoration on the nearest weekday.

A person automatically becomes an American citizen if at least one parent is already a legal resident of the United States, no matter where he was born. A person also becomes an American citizen if he is born on United States soil. Another way to become a United States citizen is to become naturalized. In order for a person to become naturalized, an individual must be at least 18 years of age and is required to pass a test regarding United States history and government, among other requirements. During Citizenship Day, naturalization ceremonies are held around the country where individuals officially become American citizens by swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States.

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