In Praise of the Puente

Having the Fourth of July on a Wednesday—and work on a Thursday—is a sin. Luckily, Spain has our salvation.

Young girls watch a fireworks display on a beach.
It’s much harder to enjoy fireworks knowing that the office awaits you. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, bringing with it cookouts, parades, and the annual barrage of fireworks that begin before and extend far past the actual holiday. But this year the red, white, and blue-themed festivities can’t go too late if you’re among the unlucky majority who don’t have July 5 off. As you’ve no doubt noticed, due to a cruel quirk of the calendar, July 4 falls on a Wednesday this year. Unless your corporate keepers were gracious enough to extend the holiday into the following weekend, you’ll be joined by the rest of us stumbling into work Thursday morning with a headache from all the booming and banging, or, perhaps, the independence-themed cocktails.

To avoid this problem, most holidays in America float untethered from a specific date and fall instead on a first or second Monday of the month, automatically creating a three-day weekend. The exceptions—the Fourth of July, Christmas, and New Year’s Day—all present the same midweek problem when they don’t fall on a Monday, Friday, or a weekend. To take time off, or not? In a case like this year, which weekend even counts as the holiday weekend? How much work is actually going to get done on a week with a boozy, fireworks-laden break in the middle? There has to be a better solution to this semi-annual dilemma than using one or two of the 10-14 paid vacation days most Americans have, right? Enter: the puente weekend.

The puente—or bridge—weekend is a beloved Spanish tradition that entails canceling work or school on the day between a holiday and a weekend. Por ejemplo: If a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the preceding Monday or following Friday are absorbed into a long puente weekend. On the rare occasion when both Tuesday and Thursday of a given week are holidays—which happened in 2016 when Spanish Constitution Day and Immaculate Conception fell on December 6 and 8, respectively—then the entire week is taken off in what’s called a macropuente. Importantly, Spanish puente weekends are officially condoned, and don’t require workers to take any of their required 30 days of paid time off. A few years ago, there was talk of cutting down on the number of puente weekends in order to boost productivity and align Spanish work schedules with the rest of the world, but there was strong opposition not only from Spaniards at large but from the Catholic Church, who would’ve seen important religious holidays automatically moved to Monday. Besides, who really wants to give up semi-regular four-day weekends for something as trivial as productivity?

Other European countries have their own versions of the puente, including the French faire le pont (making a bridge) and the German Brückentag (bridge day). And while most bridge weekends are a result of holidays falling on a Tuesday or Thursday, it’s easy to imagine a supersized U.S. model that wouldn’t require workers to show up in the fits and starts we’ll all be experiencing this bifurcated week—especially for a holiday that is as ostensibly important to our current government as Independence Day. ¡Puente! It should become the new American way.

If anything, this stupid week shows that America is not only the developed country with the worst track record on mandated time off, but also that its policies around existing federal holidays are extraordinarily outdated. As if we needed another reason to dream longingly of expatriating. Happy Fourth!