Presidents' Day, officially known as Washington's Birthday, is an American Federal Holiday that is celebrated every year on the third Monday of February. It will be celebrated on 20th February 2023.
President's Day was established as a federal holiday in 1885 to celebrate George Washington's birthday on 22nd February. Although it was originally a day to celebrate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, many use it now to honor all US Presidents, past and present.
Although a federal holiday, States have the choice to observe it or not, and if they do, then they can also choose what to call it. This means that some states are quite different from others:
Alabama calls the day "George Washington, Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday"
Arkansas also has a unique approach by naming the day George Washington/Daisy Gaston Bates Day (after the famous civil rights activist)
Arizona refers to the day as Lincoln / Washington / President's Day
Delaware does not recognize the day as a holiday.
Other states are fairly split down the middle, with some referring to the day as Washington Day, others referring to it as President's day, while others refer to it as both.
After the death of the first US President George Washington in 1799, people started observing a holiday to remember and honor his legacy. Although it was initially an unofficial holiday, Steven Wallace Dorsey (US senator from Arkansas) proposed to make it an official holiday.
The 19th US President Rutherford B. Hayes finally made it a federal holiday. After this, another proposal was made to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington on the same day. This also meant changing the name from Washington Day to Presidents' Day. However, Congress rejected this proposal.
Washington's Day was moved to a Monday as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This was proposed by Robert McClory (U.S. Representative) who said that moving all Bank Holidays to Monday would motivate workers since it would give them a three-day weekend.
Richard Nixon (37th U.S. President) finally implemented the Uniform Monday Act in 1971. Washington's birthday was changed to a Monday which was in the middle of Lincoln and his birthday. Thus for many, it came to be known as Presidents' Day.
About George Washington
Known by Americans as “The Father of Our Country”, George Washington was the first US President, serving two terms from 1789 to 1797. He also commanded the Continental Army, leading the American colonies to victory during the Revolutionary War against the British in 1783. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention and helped to draft the United States Constitution. He also established the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power to a democratically elected leader. He was also a successful businessman and surveyor, and he was one of the wealthiest men in America at the time of his death. He was known as the "Father of his country" and this earned him the status of one of the most iconic and important figures in American history, making his birthday one that was and is, celebrated with patriotic enthusiasm.
Here are some lesser-known facts about our first president:
Colonel Lewis Nicola, a soldier in the Continental Army once wrote to George Washington suggesting that he ought to use the title 'King'. George Washington was incensed at the idea, replying "if you have any regard for your country [...] banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or anyone else, a sentiment of the like nature"
George Washington was the only president to be elected unanimously by the electoral college, both in 1789 and 1792.
Although George Washington was a slave owner, he struggled with the idea of slavery, and so he secured the freedom of his slaves in his will after his death.
Presidents' Day today
Presidents' Day is one of the 11 permanently federally established holidays in the USA. Every year, on this date, there are public ceremonies in Washington DC, hosted by the current President of the USA. Celebrations throughout the country follow this.
A tradition that has been followed for decades includes “George Washington's Farewell Address” which is read in the Senate every year. This is to make Americans reflect on the founding values of their nation.
In many states, schools organize events and lessons where students can learn more about the lives and accomplishments of American Presidents. with a special focus on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Since the 1970s, stores have also taken advantage of the three-day weekend holiday to host and advertise their “Presidents' Day” sales.
Some states will hold parades and ceremonies, for example in Alexandria VA, where a parade will run through the town to celebrate George Washington's Birthday. If that is too far from home, have a look online to see what's going on in your area, and enjoy this special day.