What is Presidents Day?

Presidents Day has come to an end, and with it the amazing sales and shopping sprees that are associated with the three-day weekend. In a generation where knowledge is so easily accessed, it seems rather sad that the true reason for the day is little known. Many assume the day is to commemorate America’s presidents, but the tradition was initially founded in honor of the United States’ patriarch, President George Washington, on his birthday, February 20th. In fact, though the day is known as Presidents Day, or President’s Day, it is officially known as Washington’s Birthday.

President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the law for the federal holiday in 1879, and only federal workers of the District of Columbia were affected. In 1885, the holiday was extended to federal workers in thirty-eight states by President Grover Cleveland.

A century later, according to Congressional Record, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February. The change came in order to reduce governmental employee absenteeism, as well as to provide citizens with more family time and increase industrial and commercial production. The same move was made for Columbus, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

As for the name of the Day, the change was suggested by Representative Robert McClory, who believed the holiday should commemorate both Washington and President Abraham Lincoln. The opposition to the Presidents Day amendment took the form of William Moore McCulloch, who claimed it “would be unwise. Certainly, not all Presidents are held in the same high esteem as the Father of our Country. There are many who are not inclined to pay their respects to certain Presidents.”

Though today the holiday is known as Presidents Day, the amendment to the bill actually fell short of the required votes, and the name was not officially changed. Still, federal holidays only affect the District of Columbia and the Federal Government, and so the individual states have since decided their own legal holidays.

States including California, Texas, Alaska, Massachusetts and others celebrate President’s Day in honor of both Washington and Lincoln, while others commemorate Washington’s birthday alone.