Learn English – difference between “holiday” and “vacation”


What is the difference, if any, between these two words?

Best Answer

Yes, while they can mean the same thing, vacation is, also, a time when one decides to have a holiday, while holiday is the time when one does not decide, but when it is decided on some higher level (national, religious, organizational, etc).

Etymology might be enough to see all the peculiarities:

late 14c., "freedom or release" (from some activity or occupation), from O.Fr. vacation, from L. vacationem (nom. vacatio) "leisure, a being free from duty," from vacare "be empty, free, or at leisure" (see vain). Meaning "formal suspension of activity" (in ref. to schools, courts, etc.) is recorded from mid-15c. As the U.S. equivalent of what in Britain is called a holiday, it is attested from 1878.

1500s, earlier haliday (c.1200), from O.E. haligdæg "holy day; Sabbath," from halig "holy" (see holy) + dæg "day" (see day); in 14c. meaning both "religious festival" and "day of recreation," but pronunciation and sense diverged 16c. As a verb meaning "to pass the holidays" by 1869.

EDIT: According to etymology and dictionaries: Chiefly British holidays is a period of cessation from work or one of recreation; vacation.