Presidents Day, the third Monday of February, is popularly recognized as honoring the birth month of two of the country’s most prominent presidents — George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Washington and Lincoln, who led America through some of the toughest times, have long been deeply admired by many people. Monday’s holiday is now a celebration of the birthdays and lives of all U.S. presidents.
Presidents Day is usually marked by public ceremonies in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country. While many government offices will be closed, many businesses offer special holiday sales.
The origin of Presidents Day lies in the 1880s, when the birthday of Washington — the first president of the United States and commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution — was first celebrated as a federal holiday.
At the time, Washington was venerated as the most important figure in American history. Many events such as the 1832 centennial of his birth and the start of construction of the Washington monument in 1848 were cause for national celebration.
In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which moved several federal holidays to Mondays. The change was intended to schedule certain holidays so that employees would have long weekends throughout the year, but it has been opposed by those who believe that those holidays should be celebrated on the dates they commemorate.
During debate on the bill, it was suggested that the Washington’s Birthday holiday be renamed Presidents Day to honor the birthdays of both Washington (February 22) and Lincoln (February 12). Although Lincoln’s birthday was celebrated in many states, it was never an official federal holiday. Following much discussion, Congress rejected the name change.
After the bill went into effect in 1971, however, Presidents Day became the commonly acknowledged name, due in part to retailers’ use of that name to promote sales and the holiday’s proximity to Lincoln’s birthday.