Let the History of Presidents’ Day Unite Us
The importance of Presidents’ Day often goes unnoticed.
Lost in a sea of retailer ads, we usually associate the third Monday of February with sales for furniture and cars.
But behind this meaningful holiday is a great day honoring all those placed into the highest position by the people.
Presidents’ Day started out in tribute to George Washington, specifically his birthday.
The original date for that holiday, however, was up for debate.
According to today’s modern Gregorian or New Style calendar, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. However, the Old Style calendar used in England until 1752 noted his birthday as February 11.
As such, his birthday was originally recognized on two different dates depending on one’s preference.
First holiday and logistics
Washington’s Birthday was first recognized by an Act of Congress in 1879, and it decided upon the February 22 date. This was the first federal holiday to honor an American president.
In 1971, the date was shifted to the third Monday in February as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act – a plan to increase the number of three-day weekends for federal employees.
That action made for a strange occurrence; by shifting the actual day when the holiday is recognized – anywhere from February 15-21 – Presidents’ Day can never occur on Washington’s actual birthday.
After Abraham Lincoln came along, some felt his impact on American history warranted a special day of honor, as well.
It wasn’t until 1951 that a Presidents’ Day National Committee was formed.
This group aimed to honor the office itself, not any one particular president.
It first considered March 4 for the holiday (the original inauguration day) but the bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. When Congress talked about the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, they voted to shift Washington’s Birthday to Monday but others didn’t believe all presidents deserved special recognition.
By the mid-1980s, the term Presidents’ Day was seen more commonly, especially in advertising campaigns.
Presidents’ Day is a holiday in most states, but the names vary, so there’s not a uniform title agreement among all states.
Even without that official designation, Presidents’ Day is widely accepted and celebrated, and some still observe the original birthdays of Washington and Lincoln (February 12).
Many of the birthplaces of presidents hold individual celebrations on Presidents’ Day, and the National Park Service also maintains several sites that commemorate past presidents.