Every third Monday of February, Americans all over the world commemorate the day as Presidents’ Day – a day that honors the life and achievements of people that have occupied...
Tagged: Presidents’ Day
Presidents’ Day, originally established to honor George Washington’s birthday, traces its roots back to the 1800s.
The day was traditionally celebrated on February 22, Washington’s actual birth date.
It was in 1885 when Washington’s Birthday became an official federal holiday, making it the first holiday to celebrate the life of an individual American.
Uniform Monday Holiday Act
The shift from “Washington’s Birthday” to “Presidents’ Day” began in the late 1960s when Congress proposed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The objective was to provide workers with more three-day weekends and to ensure that holidays fell on the same weekday each year. Under this act, a few federal holidays were moved to Mondays, and Washington’s Birthday was one of them.
Though there was an attempt to rename the holiday to “Presidents’ Day” in the bill, it failed to pass. Nevertheless, Presidents’ Day became the commonly accepted name due to the proximity of Abraham Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays and the day’s broader recognition of all U.S. presidents.
The act was signed into law in 1968 and took effect in 1971. Since then, Presidents’ Day has been celebrated on the third Monday of February.
Modern Observance and Practices
While the federal government still officially regards the holiday as “Washington’s Birthday,” Presidents’ Day has become an occasion to celebrate all U.S. presidents, both past and present.
The day has also evolved commercially. Many businesses and shops offer sales, using the holiday as a winter promotion. Car dealerships, in particular, are known for their Presidents’ Day sales.
In various states, the day is spent commemorating the birthdays of specific presidents. For instance, in Washington’s home state of Virginia, the day is recognized as George Washington Day. In Alabama, it’s known as “Washington and Jefferson Day,” even though Thomas Jefferson was born in April.
In schools across the nation, the period around Presidents’ Day is an opportunity to educate students about the presidency and those who have held the office. It’s a chance to delve into the history, challenges, achievements, and legacies of U.S. presidents. Some schools have plays, additional history lessons, or reading sessions focused on the country’s leaders.
Presidential Birthplaces and Residences
Presidents’ Day also serves as a time when many Americans visit presidential birthplaces, homes, or final resting places. Notable sites include Mount Vernon in Virginia, where George Washington lived; Monticello in Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson; and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Kentucky.
Not every state in our nation observes the holiday as “Presidents’ Day.” As mentioned, some states recognize it with variations focused on specific presidents.
Moreover, while it’s a federal holiday, not all states observe it, and in some places, it’s not a public holiday, meaning schools and other institutions remain open.
- George Washington is often referred to as the “Father of His Country” for the pivotal role he played in founding the United States.
- Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is also in February, is another frequently commemorated president. He’s celebrated for leading the U.S. during its Civil War and working to end slavery.
- Contrary to popular belief, there’s no federal mandate that requires Americans to refer to the holiday as “Presidents’ Day.” Officially, it remains “Washington’s Birthday.”
Whether one uses the day to remember the iconic figures of Washington and Lincoln or to pay homage to all the leaders of our nation, it remains a day rooted in respect and recognition of the highest office in the land and those who have occupied it.