The History of Presidents’ Day

The History of Presidents’ Day

The Presidents’ Day holiday takes place each year on the third Monday in February. This special day serves to honor all American presidents, present and past. Although it is officially called Washington’s Birthday and was originally created to honor President George Washington, many now refer to it as Presidents’ Day. As a federal holiday, many schools give children, teachers, and staff members the day off and some businesses close their doors for the day. But what really is this special holiday and how did Presidents’ Day come to exist?

The Meaning Behind Presidents’ Day

The first celebration of Presidents’ Day took place to honor President George Washington. The official recognition began in 1885 when it was established as a day of remembrance throughout the entire country. But the story of Presidents’ Day started much earlier than that and almost a century later, the holiday was turned into a day to acknowledge and show appreciation for all presidents, including Washington.

How Did Presidents’ Day Come into Existence?

Beginning in 1800, following the death of Washington in 1799, a day of remembrance was held each year on February 22, Washington’s birthday. This was established as a time to celebrate Washington’s many contributions to this country. Washington’s birthday was observed unofficially throughout the decades that followed. However, in 1879 Washington’s Birthday became a federal holiday, thanks to the proposal offered by Senator Stephen Wallace Dorsey and the act of President Rutherford B. Hayes making it official.

When it first became a federal holiday, Washington’s Birthday was only a holiday in the District of Columbia. In 1885, this all changed, and Washington’s Birthday was celebrated as a federal holiday nationwide.

The holiday celebrating Washington’s Birthday started to lean towards Presidents’ Day in the late 1960s when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was proposed. This Act was proposed by Senator Robert McClory who wanted to take certain federal holidays and celebrate them on predetermined Mondays throughout the year. The reason behind doing so was claimed by many to be a way to have three-day weekends and ensure the holidays fell on the same weekday each year.

Also initially included with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was a provision that combined the celebration of Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and the proposal to rename the holiday Presidents’ Day. However, this concept didn’t receive universal agreement and didn’t come to pass. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act did receive approval and took effect in 1971 with President Richard M. Nixon’s executive order.

The Shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day

Although Washington’s Birthday was never officially changed to Presidents’ Day, during the 1970s and 1980s this holiday began to be called Presidents’ Day. It was especially used by retailers and marketers to advertise sales on this three-day weekend and call it a “Presidents’ Day Sale.” In fact, by the early 2000s, half of all states in the U.S. had changed the name of Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day. This led to a common theme across the country with calling the Washington’s Birthday holiday Presidents’ Day or Presidents’ Day weekend. However, on the official calendar, the third Monday in February is still listed as Washington’s Birthday.

Whether you choose to call this holiday Washington’s Birthday or Presidents’ Day, it’s a good time to engage in patriotic celebration and honor the current and prior presidents in office. Our

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