This upcoming Monday is Presidents’ Day. While talking about it with my kids earlier today, I realized I didn’t know much about the holiday. Since I don’t want to seem ill-informed in front of my kids (they’ll figure that out soon enough), I decided to educate myself. I had no idea just how interesting the story would turn out to be!
I thought Presidents’ Day was a Federal Holiday that was created to celebrate both Presidents Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays. Turns out there are two things wrong with that sentence. First, the holiday isn’t technically even called Presidents’ Day, and second, poor President Lincoln’s birthday isn’t commemorated federally at all!
While it’s true that both Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays did fall in February (2/22 & 2/12, respectively), the federal holiday that falls on the 3rd Monday in February is actually for Washington’s birthday. This is a holiday that’s been celebrated since Washington himself was in office- one that used to rival the 4th of July in terms of patriotic displays and parties. In 1885, President Arthur made Washington’s birthday into an official holiday to be celebrated on February 22nd.
Things got a bit muddled in 1968 when the Uniformed Monday Holiday Act was proposed in Congress. As discussed in my Veteran’s Day blog, this Act moved 3 existing holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day & Veteran’s Day) so they would be observed on a Monday which created more 3 day weekend for Federal Employees. When this Act went into practice in 1971 Washington’s birthday celebration was moved to the 3rd Monday in February.
So where does President Lincoln fall into this? Well, his February birthday quickly became a holiday in many states during his Presidency but it was never a national holiday. Federal legislation was brought up in the 1950’s that suggested combining the celebration of both president’s birthdays into one Presidents’ Day, but that never passed. However, many of the states that did officially celebrate Lincoln’s birthday rolled that in with Washington’s birthday to make way for a two new federal holidays (Columbus Day & Martin Luther King, Jr Day) on their calendars. The new holidays made having two celebrations in February too costly for many states- so combining them made the most amount of sense financially.
There you have it! Regardless of what you call it or how you celebrate, I hope you have a fantastic 3rd Monday of February off!
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