Presidents’ Day: The History and Transformation Of The Holiday

Mt Rushmore Presidents Day
Mt Rushmore Presidents Day

Every third Monday in February, Americans celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present. However, the origin of the holiday comes from President George Washington. After President Washington’s death in 1799, his February 22nd birthday became an unofficial day of remembrance beginning in 1800. However, it was not until 1885 that February 22nd became a federal holiday celebrating Washington’s Birthday. For the next 83 years, Americans would continue to celebrate President Washington’s Birthday on the 22nd of February.

1968: Congress Passes The Uniform Monday Holiday Act

During the 1960s, Senator Robert McClory of Illinois came up with a plan to shake up the federal holiday schedule. Under his proposed Uniform Monday Holiday Act, the government would shift the recognition of several holidays from individual dates to predetermined Mondays. The bill combined Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthday celebration to form “President’s Day,” and will be celebrated on the third Monday of February.

In addition, Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day were also removed from their specific dates to predetermined Mondays. (However, Veterans’ Day was returned to its original date of November 11th in 1980.) The law effectively went into action in 1971, when President Nixon signed an executive order. However, it is important to note that the holiday was still officially named “Washington’s Birthday,” even after the change.

1980s: Washington’s Birthday Begins Transformation To Presidents’ Day

During the late 1980s, Washington’s Birthday began to be referred to as “Presidents’ Day,” as many people interpreted the move away from Washington’s actual birthday as a way to honor Presidents Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays. Also, marketers and retailers used the opportunity to run “Presidents’ Day” sales, which would help the holiday’s transformation.

By the early 2000s, over 25 states referred to the holiday as Presidents’ Day and the number has continued to grow over the past many years. However, some states choose to celebrate different leaders. For instance, Alabama celebrates Presidents Washington and Thomas Jefferson on Presidents’ Day. Meanwhile, Arkansas uses the Presidents’ Day holiday to commemorate President Washington and civil right activist Daisy Gatson Bates. While the vast majority of the country still uses the day to celebrate Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays, it has also become a day to remember all U.S. presidents past and present.

However you choose to spend your Presidents’ Day, wishes you a safe, happy, and health holiday!

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