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Today In History

President’s Day – February 18th

Feb-15, 2019

Photo of the four massive heads sculpted into Mount Rushmore look out under a blue sky.

Photo Credit: Andrew_Carter786 from Flickr

Every third Monday in the month of February is a federally observed holiday known to many as President’s Day. This day was created in memory and honor of the very first president of the United States, George Washington. His birthday is actually on February 22nd.

The History of President’s Day

This national holiday came about as a result of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Uniform Holiday Bill in 1968. The bill created three separate holidays to be celebrated nationally each year on Mondays, allowing federal employees an extra day off work and a three-day weekend for each. These are Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day (every last Monday in the month of May), and Veterans Day (every fourth Monday in October).

The bill also attempted to change the name of “Washington’s Birthday” to Presidents Day. However, this portion of the bill was not accepted. Therefore, the day most of us know as Presidents Day is still legally called “Washington’s Birthday.”

The term “Presidents Day” was brought about as a marketing campaign for many businesses nationwide and the idea caught on quickly. It is used by retail stores, car dealerships, various other industries as a way to draw customers in with discounts and sales.

The term Presidents Day also sticks well due to the fact that President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is also in the month of February, on the 12th. His birthday and George Washington’s were, in fact, celebrated separately as individual holidays up until 1971 when President Richard Nixon gave an executive order that all presidents’ birthdays should be celebrated on one day. This meant Lincoln’s birthday would no longer be celebrated individually nationwide and only Washington’s Birthday would be a holiday.

How to Celebrate President’s Day

Washington's Mount Vernon Mansion

Photo Credit: Troy from Flickr

While this is a federal holiday, each state remains in control of the which holidays they will choose to observe or not observe. For example, before 1971, when Lincoln’s birthday was celebrated on its own, many southern states chose to not observe this day as a result of the civil war. Instead, they memorialized a day for Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate State of America during that war.

Most states now choose to honor President’s Day with local government and schools being closed for the day. In states that do not observe the day with school closings, most teachers still recognize the importance of the day and dedicate a lesson, discussion, or class activity to our presidents and the great things they accomplished for the nation.

To celebrate the day for yourself, check out a book about the life and events of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or another president of the United States. There are also many movies or documentaries created on these great men.

You could also choose to take a road trip to one of their homes, such as Lincoln’s childhood home in Illinois or Washington’s estate in Virginia. A trip to such historical places will teach you a lot about the life and times of the some of our early and greatest leaders.