Translation:We say that holidays are red days.
In English, we refer to red letter holy days in the Anglican and Roman Catholic religious calendar as well. Since the major feasts were written in red even in medieval books of hours, I imagine some sort of term has existed like this in all Central and Western European languages.
Right, it refers to their presence on the religious calendar. I doubt anyone but someone connected pretty closely with the C of E or RC would use those now. If you look in the novels of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, or even probably Evelyn Waugh, though, they are everyday parlance.
I am a native speaker of North American English (Canada, so there is historically a strong British influence), and to me, a red letter day is a day where something unexpectedly lucky happens. The opposite is a black letter day, in which something unexpectedly bad happens. There is no specific connection to holidays...at least, not in the way I'm used to it.
I have also heard red letter day as a special day of some sort, as nowawillow indicates, but I have never heard black letter day. Traditionally, all non-feast days were in black, so that would be surprising to me, but on modern Anglican religious calendars, regular non-holidays are mostly in green, while black is reserved for days of mourning, such as All Souls and Good Friday. Maybe, then, it is a result of Anglican influence lasting longer in Canada. As I say, it is now limited to traditionalist Anglicans and Roman Catholics, as far as I know.
Agreed! I distinctly remember reading a story in elementary school (Eastern US) way too many decades ago to admit, about "Red Letter Days" and what they meant. And holidays (say Washington's birthday, not just Christmas) were regularly printed in red on calendars. Not seen as much nowadays -- pure black and white is cheaper!
In the Northeastern US, we don't use the term "Bank Holiday". We just say "holiday". And also here, "holiday" seems to have become divorced from its original etymology of "Holy Day". In the US, you can find multiple holidays for every single day of the year. We use the word "holiday" to mean any kind of celebration day. So if Red Letter Days refer to "holy days", it makes sense then that Sundays would be Red Letter Days.
I'm sorry Segwyne, but I live in the Northeastern US, and we do talk about bank holidays at work. They are important holidays that banks recognize (and have off), as well as other businesses, but we still have to work...because we are grunts. I thought it was an Americanism until I read Chris Butler's posts. Also, 'red letter day' sounds like something I know from my childhood, but haven't thought about for many years.
I agree - closest translation of the intention behind 'röd dag' in the UK is Bank Holiday (except for the fact that Sundays are not really official Bank Holidays, whereas they are red days in Sweden). We use 'bank holiday' for a day that is normally a working day, but has been designated a public holiday by the government/state/powers that be. Bizzarely, it's by no means guaranteed that a bank will close on a bank holiday.
My mormor, whose mother was completely Swedish, used to have hand-stitched calendars up in her house, and as a young child it didn't occur to me that it was (a very small part of) Swedish culture being preserved in our family. I wonder if my grandmother is even aware of her decision to use red for holidays!
The english translation used in this question is misleading and confusing for native english speakers. In the UK, the word holiday has a much broader meaning. If you take two weeks off work to go and lie on a beach in the Mediterranean, that would be a holiday (e.g. I won't be here next week as I am going on holiday). What Swedes call red days would be bank holidays in British English. These are days which are officially non-working days for the general public, and in Sweden they are marked on calendars in red ink.
After reading all instead just many of the comments to clarify that I grew up in Minnesota with mainly Swedish grandparents and that I was still pretty young when I occasionally still heard about red letter days. It wasn't a big thing but everyone I knew understood what it meant. That is probably no longer true among younger people.