DARKE COUNTY – President’s Day arrives this Monday, and while the holiday is remembered as a celebration of our nation’s great leaders, the day itself carries its own history.
President’s Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February, and was originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington.
Though now known as President’s Day, it was initially referred to as “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government, and was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22, before moving to its present date.
The country unofficially observed Washington’s Birthday for most of the 1800’s, but it wasn’t until 1879 that President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into national law.
At that time, the United States only observed four other holidays, which were Christmas Day, Independence Day, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving.
Washington’s Birthday also had the honor of being the first national holiday to celebrate the life an individual American. The second holiday to do this was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which began in 1983.
Washington’s Birthday actually became known as President’s Day as part of an initiative to shift several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of preset Mondays.
The initiative was called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and began in the late 1960’s when an Illinois senator proposed it to Congress. The act was designed to create more three-day weekends for the workforce, which in turn would boost the economy’s retail sales.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also incorporated a stipulation that combined the celebration to include Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which falls on February 12. However, many legislators from Virginia, George Washington’s home state, took offense to the idea of combining the two and the proposal was never enacted.
But the majority of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and was enacted in 1971.
As part of the act, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in February, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May, Columbus Day was established as the second Monday in October and Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January for the same reasons in the Uniform Holiday Act, although the holiday was not yet established.
Soon after Washington’s Birthday moved to its new date, many people began to believe the holiday was meant to celebrate Lincoln as well, as the day fell between their two birthdays.
According to History.com, by the 2000’s about half of the U.S. states had changed the holiday’s name to President’s Day on their calendars. And while most states celebrate Washington and Lincoln, many have taken the opportunity to include other public figures of their own including Thomas Jefferson.
Now the holiday is widely celebrated in all areas of the country and many schools and businesses shut down for the day in remembrance. Some schools have even begun using the entire week as a “mid-winter recess.”