What is Presidents’ Day?

President’s Day is an American federal bank holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February. While the holiday originally celebrated only George Washington on his birthday (February 22), it was moved to the third Monday in February as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to give working Americans more three day weekends.

The History of President’s Day

President’s Day was celebrated as on February 22 for many years, solely recognizing George Washington. However, the date change marked a change in how Americans viewed the holiday. This date change placed the holiday between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, causing many to view the holiday as one celebrating multiple presidents. Throughout the 1980s, many states adopted President’s Day as the official name for the holiday. President’s Day is now more inclusive in its celebration, honoring past and current presidents as a group. In the early 2000s, some congressional efforts attempted to restore the holiday to exclusively celebrate Washington and Abraham’s achievements, however they failed to gain much attention.

President George Washington

During George Washington’s life and directly after his death in 1799, he was widely recognized as one of the most, if not the most important leader in United States history. As the “father of our country” he served as commander in chief for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and then served the first two terms as President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Some of his greatest achievements included organizing the first United States Cabinet and Executive Branch, keeping peace in America by staying neutral during the French Revolution, and urging unity and American values during his farewell speech.

George Washington’s accomplishments have been commemorated across the country and nationally through the construction of the Washington Monument in 1848. His birthday was unofficially recognized as a national holiday until 1885 when it became an official national holiday.

How We Celebrate President’s Day

Similar to the Fourth of July, many people view President’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate patriotism and to remember United States’ history. Some organizations conduct reenactments of Revolutionary War battles, or famous speeches such as Washington’s farewell speech when he retired from office.

Many people also take time to brush up on American history during the holiday. Leading up to the holiday, schools often teach special lessons about United States presidents, particularly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

In 1932, President’s Day was also used as a way to reinstate the Purple Heart as George Washington originally created the decoration.

Ideas for President’s Day Activities and Events

If you want to celebrate President’s Day with a unique activity, check out a few of the ideas below:

  • Create a President’s Day Quiz
    • Gather fun facts about your favorite presidents and make a quiz out of them. Play with your family and friends to help everyone learn more about our presidents’ greatest accomplishments and daily life.
  • Plan a visit to a Presidential Library or Museum
    • Use President’s Day as a reason to plan your next visit to a museum or Presidential Library. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History features a permanent exhibit that includes thousands of items from different president’s lives to help the visitor picture what our president’s daily lives have been like.
  • Write a letter to the White House
    • Take the opportunity to make your voice heard. Write a letter to the President, Vice President, or First Lady with thoughts about current events, and your hope for the United States’ future.