On Vacation, or on holidays?

At this time of year, many people have a break from school or university, or take some time away from work. So should we say that they are on holiday, or on vacation? Like many English words, it depends on where you are or who you are talking to.

A “holiday” was originally a “holy day”: a day that is connected with God or religion (similar to the Polish word “święto”). In the United States, it’s still used in a similar way. “Holidays” in American English are either important religious celebrations (such as Christmas, Eid, Passover or Diwali), or other important festivals or national celebrations (such as Independence Day or Thanksgiving).

A holiday can also be a day when people don’t have to go to work. In the UK, this is often called a ”bank holiday”; in other parts of the world, we use “public holiday”. For example, in Australia and New Zealand, on April 25 we have a public holiday called Anzac Day.

A ”vacation”, in American English, is time away from work or studies, especially if that time is used for travel or other fun activities. It comes from a latin word meaning “freedom from obligations”. This word is not so common in UK English, but is used in some specific contexts, such as law courts or universities.

In British and other varieties of English, such as Australian, we use “holiday” or “holidays” for this meaning. The plural “holidays” is most often connected with a long break once a year (e.g. “summer holidays”), whereas we use phrases such as “on holiday” or “take a holiday” in other situations when we are taking time off work or travelling for fun.

So, to sum up: a holiday is an important day for religious or other reasons, or a day when most people don’t work. In British and Australian English, it’s also a longer break from work such as taking time off to go on a trip somewhere. In American English, a longer break, especially if it’s for travel, is a vacation. 

So, being Australian, I would say that I am “on holiday” right now, and that I will “take a holiday” and go away somewhere on a trip. If I were American, I would probably say that I am “on vacation” and that I am looking forward to “taking a vacation” and travelling someone nice.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll see you after my holiday!