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President's Day: What It's Really About

By Amy Ahern
On February 24, 2017

The third Monday in February, often known as the random holiday that calls off for that much needed three day weekend, or costumers taking advantage of the occasional retail sale in department stores—or the more unknown name, “Washington’s Birthday.”

    For nearly 50 years, the misunderstanding of Presidents’ Day has been continuously stirring. Truth is: on the federal level, President’s Day is not an official national holiday. Instead, a nation leisurely enjoys time off on our first president, George Washington’s birthday. 

    To contrary belief, According to the Center for Legislative Archives, “It’s also not a ‘national holiday,’ as that concept doesn’t really exist either; in the U.S., legal holidays must be established separately by the states and the federal government. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. are the only two Americans whose birthdays are a federal holiday in the U.S.”

    Reported by The National Associate of Travel Organizations, they wanted Washington’s birthday combined with former president Abraham Lincoln’s dating back to the 1950s. However, Lincoln’s birthday was also celebrated on some state-level; this was never a federal holiday. Although not adopted universally, some states did recognize this day. 

    What lead to confusion was that even though the federal government moved Washington’s birthday to the third Monday, not all states followed. Snopes points out, “Individual state governments do not have to observe federal holidays — most of them generally do (and most private employers and school districts follow suit), but federal and state holiday observances can differ.” 

    But out of all the confusion, this is what we do know: President’s Day is an American holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday in February established in 1885 to recognize the first president, George Washington. Traditionally known as, Washington’s Birthday, celebrated on his actual day of birth on February 22. By 1971, the holiday became more popular. In venture to create more three day weekends for the nation’s workers, it was moved as part of Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

    In Illinois, Lincoln’s Birthday had been a state holiday, as opposed to separately, Washington’s. Civilians took into consideration in simply combing the two former presidents birthday in one. Eventually the Act of The Uniform Monday Holiday came into place, which included a clause to integrate the celebratory of Washington’s Birthday, and Abraham Lincoln’s both falling in February. When the Act was passed in 1968 from an executive order of President Richard Nixon, the Act was finally in effect. Although several states still have individual holidays that honor the birthdays of Washington, Lincoln, and other founding fathers; President’s Day is now viewed as a day to honor all United States past and present presidents.

    When Congress passed the law in 1971, individual states, however, have changed the name of the holiday in a more extensive manner to honor both Washington and his successor, Abraham Lincoln. 

    With Nixon’s order in effect, marketers quickly sprang at the opportunity to play on the three-day weekend sales, and “President’s Day” marketing bargains crossed the nation. By early 2000s, half of the 50 states had changed the holiday’s name to President’s Day on their calendars. Although some states like Arkansas, personalize the holiday by adding new leaders in celebration, with celebrating Washington and Daisy Gatson, a civil rights activist. Alabama, however, uses the holiday to tribute to Washington and Thomas Jefferson. 

    Commonly, Presidents’ Day is viewed as a patriotic celebration and remembrance. During the hardships of the Great Depression, portraits of Washington often was a symbol of hope for the nation. In 1932, the holiday was used to reinstate the Purple Heart. 

    In 1938 nearly 5,000 people attended mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in honor and remembrance of Washington. Now, the day is still remembered with celebration even though numerous states are requiring public schools spend the day learning of the accomplishments of the nations founding fathers. How will you show your patriotism?

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