Presidents’ Day is a special day in the United States when we pay tribute to Presidents both past and present. The federal holiday always falls on the third Monday every February. It has an extensive history that leads to the holiday we celebrate today. Once known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Presidents’ Day sat a precedent for many other federal holidays. It’s viewed as a day we celebrate special leaders in the United States for all they’ve done along the way.
The Founding of Presidents’ Day
After the first President of the US, George Washington passed away in 1799, the world decided to pay tribute to him with a special day. His birthday, February 22, became a day to honor him. In 1800, Washington was seen as the highest figure in all of American history. The world celebrated beginning to construct the Washington Monument in 1848 because he was so special to American history. In the late 1870s, honoring the President’s birthday became a federal holiday.Read More »
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act
Americans made a change from only celebrating Washington’s birthday in the late 1960s. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was all about shifting the celebration of numerous holidays to specific dates that fell on a Monday. This was an easy way to make for three-day weekends for the workers in America. Some people argued that changing the dates would make the holidays lose their meaning, but this didn’t stop the bill. Many people saw the changes as a way to boost retail sales and reduce employee absenteeism.
The Act also combined the celebration of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthday. Illinois already celebrated Lincoln’s birthday as a state holiday. Now, America would celebrate these two Presidents with equal recognition.
Illinois Senator Robert McClory pushed that this day now be named, “Presidents’ Day.” In 1971, President Richard Nixon stated the third Monday in February was officially the day to honor Presidents. Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Columbus Day also were affected and moved from their usual dates. The only one that changed was Veterans Day, which went back to its original date of November 11.
Celebrating The Presidents With A New Date
The new date for the celebration of Presidents’ Day was thought to be all about celebrating both Washington and Lincoln. It fell right in between their birthdays. Retailers jumped on the three-day weekend excitement pushing special sales and bargains. In the 1980s, America began jumping on this bandwagon and calling Washington and Lincoln’s supposed special day “Presidents’ Day,” too. By the early 2000s, half of the states in America had officially changed the name to Presidents’ Day.
The Legal Name
One of the most ironic things about Presidents’ Day is that it isn’t officially known by that name. The United States Code still calls the holiday Washington’s Birthday. It was never officially changed. The good news for local governments is that federal code states you can name federal holidays anything you feel. This is why most states celebrate Presidents’ Day instead of Washington’s Birthday.
Different States’ Celebrations
There are some states that customize Presidents’ Day with their own heroes. Arkansas celebrates Daisy Batson Gates, a civil rights activist, along with Washington. Alabama celebrates Thomas Jefferson along with Washington. Presidents’ Day is also a popular day to now celebrate all of the American leaders in the White House. Some people are against this stating that the day is reserved for Washington and Lincoln. They believe celebrating other leaders minimizes the legacy of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Presidents’ Day Closings
Presidents’ Day is an official federal holiday so most schools and banks are closed on this day. NASDAQ, The New York Stock Exchange, the post office, and many businesses close in observance of Presidents’ Day as well.
Presidents’ Day Traditions and Special Celebrations
Presidents’ Day is seen traditionally as the perfect time for a good patriotic celebration. During the Great Depression, newspapers and magazines plastered pictures of George Washington on all of their covers to pay tribute. In 1932, Presidents’ Day reinstated the Purple Heart. George Washington created this honor for soldiers that were wounded or killed in battle.
Presidents’ Day is now celebrated by many historical groups to stage historic reenactments and hold special events. Schools often teach students about special events in history and Presidential achievements at this time.
Presidents’ Day started as a day to honor one President and grew to honor all Presidential leaders. It’s a day we pay tribute to those that lead our country through the good and bad days. Stemming all the way back to George Washington, we pay tribute to the achievements of American leaders.
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