Every third Monday of February (February 17) we celebrate Presidents’ Day in all its patriotic glory. Many people relish in their day off of work, but they might be surprised to know that that was the point! It wasn’t until 1971 that Presidents’ Day moved in an effort to create more three-day weekends for the public. They hoped that this would inspire greater productivity nationwide. It was believed that at this point in the year, the restorative effects of the Winter holidays have begun to fade and we need another break to regain some of that lost stamina.
History of Presidents Day
After the death of George Washington in 1799, his birthday was unofficially celebrated as a day of remembrance called Washington Day. Throughout the 1800s, people used this day to honor the man that shaped America and the legacy he left. In 1832, a resolution permitted the removal and internment of George Washington’s body in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. and the erection of the Washington Monument in 1848 caused more celebrations nationwide.
It wasn’t until the late 1870s that Steven Wallace Dorsey proposed that Washington’s birthday should become a national federal holiday. President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law in 1879 and joined the four existing bank holidays that were previously approved in 1870. Because of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy and the proximity of his birthday on February 12, it’s proposed that Washington Day should become Presidents’ Day to celebrate both men, but that idea was rejected by Congress.
Washington’s Birthday didn’t officially become Presidents’ Day until the late 1960s. Senator Robert McClory of Illinois concocted a plan that moved key bank holidays to Mondays to increase the number of three-day weekends for workers in what’s known as the Uniform Monday’s Act. The hope was that it would increase productivity and decrease employee absenteeism. Unsurprisingly, the labor union agreed with this idea and so did the private sector.
In 1971, Richard M. Nixon made the executive order to pass the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which shifted Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day to Monday. With the date landing in the middle of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday. It became known as Presidents’ Day while having a simultaneous benefit for retail stores as they advertised their special sales events during this time. By the mid-1980s, Presidents’ Day became the common term and continues to this day.
Presidents Day timeline
After George Washington’s death in 1799 his birthday is celebrated nationwide.
President Rutherford B. Hayes signs Washington’s Birthday into law.
Congress passes the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill and shifts four bank holidays to Monday including Washington’s Birthday.
Presidents’ Day becomes the common term, honoring all presidents and a marketing boon for retailers.
Presidents Day FAQs
Is Presidents’ Day a paid holiday?
Presidents’ Day is a paid holiday for the federal government. Otherwise, it depends on the company.
Is Presidents’ Day celebrated around the world?
Presidents’ Day is a national holiday, but parts of Canada celebrate Family Day that lands on the third Monday of February.Historically, people have celebrated with parades and patriotic festivities with family and friends.
What are the traditions of Presidents’ Day?
Historically, people have celebrated with parades and patriotic festivities with family and friends.
Presidents Day Activities
Take a Historical Journey
There are plenty of historical sites and tours that you and your family can indulge in to learn about the history of the presidency. Washington D.C. is the obvious place, but if you don’t live in Virginia and don’t wish to travel, learn about your local government and how presidents have impacted your community. Your local history museum is sure to have documents and artifacts that are sure to enlighten.
Know Your Presidents
Take this time to historically deep-dive into the presidents that aren’t often spoken of. Everyone knows the names Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington, but what about Martin Van Buren and John Tyler? While they might not be as big as the greats, their time in office is a part of the legacy as a whole and important in their own right.
Make It a Game
Sometimes, we can take our history for granted, so why not create a quiz you can play at home? Split off into teams and write down questions about the presidents and the presidency. It has the dual benefit of informing everyone on American history, and as an added bonus, you can best everyone with your historical knowledge.
Five Surprising Facts About Presidents’ Day
Died on the fourth of July
Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826, which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence.
Presidents’ Day sales
Merchants on average see a 1.2% weekly boost in sales the week of Presidents Day.
The undefeated Washington
George Washington was the only president to be unanimously elected by all of the state representatives.
The “S” in Harry S. Truman doesn’t actually stand for anything.
A pair of bills attempted to return the official name of Presidents’ Day to Washington's Birthday, but it didn't receive much support.
Why We Love Presidents Day
Knowledge is power
Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. It’s important to know history so that we can properly understand the state of things. All of the successes and failures have had a direct effect on our current state, and if we hope to make things better, we have to know the truth of what went on before.
Presidents’ Day allows us to pause and give respect to the legacy of those who came before. It’s easy to take life for granted, and for the acts of these men seem so long ago, but the presidents have been a driving force in every aspect of life.
While nothing is perfect, it’s important to hold onto the ideals that the country stands for and allow it to inspire you to reach greater heights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is meant for all people and it’s up to us to make sure it happens.
Presidents Day dates