Celebrating Presidents Day

Many observe Presidents Day as the February holiday that commemorates our American Commanders in Chief, gives a three-day weekend for students and workers, and provides the opportunity for a few fun, patriotically-themed sales from favorite retailers. However, did you know that this holiday was never officially named Presidents Day by federal lawmakers? And that it was never federally recognized as the day to celebrate all presidents? 

Well, then what is this holiday called and why do we celebrate? Here is a bit of background and interesting trivia to answer those questions!

After the death of George Washington in 1799, many began using his birthday as a day of remembrance to celebrate this important historical figure. This didn’t become an official holiday though until the latter part of the 1800’s. It was actually a U.S. Senator from Arkansas, Stephen Wallace Dorsey, who initially made the proposal to make Washington’s Birthday a federally-recognized holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed into law Washington’s Birthday as official. At the time, this only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country. 

Fast forward to the next century. In the late 1960’s, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was proposed to change some of the federal holidays from specific dates to Mondays in order to provide workers a series of three-day weekends throughout the year. Some lawmakers championed a certain provision in the Act that would combine the celebration of Washington’s Birthday with that of Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday (which is in February also and was celebrated as a holiday in some states) and changing the name to Presidents Day. Disagreement arose over this provision because some believed that America’s first president and leader of the Continental Army during the American Revolution should be honored individually. The provision was eventually dropped, but the Act itself was passed in 1968 and officially began in 1971. Washington’s Birthday was now to be celebrated on the third Monday of February. 

Even though it was still officially called Washington’s Birthday by federal lawmakers, a shift to the name Presidents Day came soon after from the general population. The move in dates caused many citizens to assume that it was to celebrate both Presidents Lincoln and Washington since it fell between the two birthdays. Retailers and marketers jumped on the name change, as well, and began calling it Presidents Day to promote three-day weekend shopping, sales, and bargains. The name was used so frequently that after a few decades some states had officially changed the name of the holiday to Presidents Day, and many observed the holiday as a way to honor all American presidents. 

That brings us to 2022. Some prefer to observe this day for what is officially called on a federal calendar, Washington’s Birthday, and celebrate George Washington and his accomplishments. Others prefer the more commonly used Presidents Day and choose to celebrate Washington and Lincoln together or all U.S. presidents combined. Either way, the sentiment behind why we celebrate remains the same.

The patriotism and respect that citizens feel for the office, title, and position of American presidents, regardless if one agrees with an individual’s politics, is a shared pride in our country’s democracy and independence. So on Washington’s Birthday/Presidents Day, as we observe and commemorate one, two, or all presidents of the United States who have served in the highest ranking office of our nation, we should we celebrate the ideas and beliefs of liberty and freedom which they represent. 

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