Every third Monday of February, Americans celebrate Presidents Day, a federal holiday that often translates to a long weekend and a shopping bonanza. But how did this holiday come about, and who exactly are we honoring? Here are five things to keep in mind:
1. Understanding the Origins of Presidents Day
Presidents Day, celebrated on the third Monday of February, is a federal holiday in the United States. Although it is commonly known as Presidents Day, its official name on the federal calendar is Washington’s Birthday, in honor of George Washington, the first President of the United States. However, many states have designated the day as Presidents Day. But how did this holiday come into existence? The history of Presidents Day is a story of political decisions and cultural traditions that have evolved over time.
2. From George Washington to a Federal Holiday
The country has been observing Washington’s birthday, which falls on February 22nd, for many years in one form or another. In 1879, Washington’s birthday became a federally recognized holiday, but it was not until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968 that the official celebration of Washington’s birthday was designated as the third Monday in February. The law was put into effect in 1971, and the day became a three-day weekend.
3. The Evolution of Presidents Day
The idea of creating Presidents Day as a way of celebrating both Washington’s birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) at the same time has been around since the 1950s. Although it is still officially designated as Washington’s Birthday on the federal calendar, many states have renamed it Presidents Day. This has helped solidify the day as Presidents Day in the country’s collective consciousness. The term became even more popularized thanks to advertising campaigns for holiday sales in the 1980s.
4. Celebrating Presidents Day
There are many ways to celebrate Presidents Day. For those interested in history, visiting Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia estate, is a great option. Alternatively, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston offers a day of presidential storytelling, musical performances, and more. Others may choose to shop for Presidents Day sales or spend the day relaxing at home with a good book about Washington, such as Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life.”
5. Opinions on the Holiday
Not everyone is happy with the way Presidents Day has evolved over the years. Some George Washington fans prefer to honor him on his actual birthday, February 22nd, rather than on a day that has become a more generic celebration of all U.S. presidents. The Mount Vernon crowd, for example, would like to see the holiday renamed back to Washington’s Birthday.
In conclusion, Presidents Day is a federal holiday that has become a cultural tradition in the United States. While its origins are rooted in the celebration of George Washington’s birthday, it has evolved over time to become a more generalized celebration of all U.S. presidents. Regardless of how one chooses to celebrate the holiday, it offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the nation’s history and honor the leaders who have shaped it.