The Third Monday in February, this year it’s the 16th day of February, we will celebrate the American holiday of Presidents’ Day. It was a holiday that was originally established in 1885 to recognize the Presidency of the first President of the United States; George Washington. The Federal Government still officially recognizes the holiday as “Washington’s Birthday”.
Just as a side note, Presidents day never falls on a presidents actual birthday. George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan were all born in February; however, all of those birthdays all fall either too late or too early in the month to fall on Presidents’ Day which is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month.
Washington’s actual birth date is February 22nd, so Washington’s birthday is traditionally celebrated on that day; however, the holiday became popularly know as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which was an attempt to create more three-day weekends for most of the nation’s workers. Several states still have the individual holiday’s to celebrate the birthday’s of Washington and Lincoln as well as other figures. Presidents’ Day is now a holiday that is viewed as a day to celebrate all United States Presidents past and present instead of just a few select Presidents.
I remember as a kid having two days off from school to celebrate both Washington and Lincolns’ birthday’s. However, here a breakdown by state where Washington’s Birthday is in an official state holiday and known as:
- President’s Day: in Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
- Presidents’ Day: in Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont
- Presidents day: in Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon.
- George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday: in Alabama
- Washington’s Birthday/President’s Day: in Maine
- Lincoln/Washington/Presidents’ Day: in Arizona
- Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthday: in Montana
- Washington and Lincoln Day: in Utah
- Washington-Lincoln Day: In Colorado
- George Washington Day: in Virginia
- George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gaston Bates Day: in Arkansas
In Massachusetts, the state officially celebrates Washington’s Birthday on the same day the Federal Government celebrates it. State law also directs the governor to issue an annual Presidents day proclamation on May 29, John F. Kennedy’s birthday, honoring the presidents with Massachusetts roots; Kennedy, John Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John Quincy Adams. In California, Connecticut, Missouri, and Illinois celebrate Washington’s birthday as a federal holiday, they also celebrate Lincoln’s birthday as a state holiday, falling on February 12th regardless of the day of the week. While in New Mexico, President’s Day is a state-government paid holiday that is observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Georgia celebrates Presidents’ Day as a state-government paid holiday, but it’s observed on Christmas Eve, or the prior Thursday if Christmas falls on Saturday or Friday if Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday. If December 24 is a Wednesday then this holiday is observed on Friday December 26.
So back to Washington’s Birthday. Washington’s Birthday was unofficially observed through most of the 1800’s it wasn’t until the late 1870’s that it became a federal holiday. The first to propose the observance become a federal holiday was a senator from Arkansas, Steven Wallace Dorsey. He proposed the measure and in 1879 Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. The holiday was only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country. At the time Washington’s birthday was only one of four national recognized federal bank holidays, which included; Christmas Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving. And while Washington was the first American individual to be celebrated, the second law that celebrates an individual American was signed into law in 1983, celebrating the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr.
The shift from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day began in the late 1960’s when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The Act was championed by the senator of Illinois, Senator Robert McClory. The Act had several purposes. The first was so that the several federal holidays would fall on predetermined Mondays. The second was so that it would create more three-day holiday weekends for the nations workers. And third, that if all these holidays fell on a predetermined Monday it would reduce employee absenteeism. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included the provision combining the celebration of Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthday’s giving equal recognition to the two most famous American Statesmen. The main piece of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and officially went into effect in 1971 following the executive order from President Richard Nixon. So Washington’s Birthday along with Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day were all moved from their traditionally designated dates; however, due to widespread criticism Veterans Day reverted to it’s original November 11 date in 1980. Nixon’s order was plainly called the holiday Washington’s Birthday, it wasn’t long before it was being called Presidents’ Day. The move from Washington’s original birth date on the 22nd of February, was what led many to believe that the new date was to commemorate both Washington and Abraham Lincoln, because the new day fell between their Birthdays.
Both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln still remain the two most recognized leaders in the United States. But Presidents’ Day is now a day that recognizes the lives and achievements of all the Presidents that have served our country, the United States of America.
Presidents’ Day is traditionally viewed as a time of patriotic celebration and remembrance, just like Independence Day. In 1932 February 22nd was used to reinstate the Purple Heart, a military decoration that was originally created by George Washington to honor soldiers that were killed or wounded while serving in the armed forces. When I was growing up the days leading up to Presidents’ Day were spent learning about the accomplishments of the presidents, focusing on the lives of Lincoln and Washington.
Now you might ask yourself what led me to impart all this information to you? I was just trying to recall when the birthdays of two president’s, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln began to be celebrated at the same time. I remember that when I was a kid we spent hours learning about these two presidents and what they accomplished in their lives and what they did during their presidency. We spent more time on those two things with a short break of Valentine’s in between. During Washington’s birthday we had Apple Pie and during Lincoln’s birthday we had Cherry Pie. I still like to make both of those pies to celebrate. Anyway now you know about what happened to the two separate celebrations and making it into just one. And just so you know, this year Valentine’s Day is the Saturday of that three day weekend.