History of President's Day
Celebrated on the third Monday of February, President’s Day is a United States federal holiday that honors George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and our nation’s presidents. Though the holiday is currently held as a celebration for all Presidents of the United States, this was not its original intent.
In 1880, an Act of Congress deemed George Washington’s birthday, February 22, a federal holiday for government offices in the District of Columbia. In 1885, the holiday was implemented in all federal offices across the United States. This holiday was known as Washington’s Birthday because its purpose was to commemorate the first President of the United States. For decades, Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on the actual day of his birth, until January 1, 1971 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took affect, shifting the holiday to every third Monday in February. The purpose of Uniform act was to schedule certain holidays on Mondays, as opposed to sporadic fixed dates throughout the week, in order to allow federal employees to have long weekends during the year. When drafting the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, it was proposed to rename the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day to honor both Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as the holiday falls between both of the president’s birthdays. Congress declined changing the name, leaving the holiday’s legal name to be Washington’s Birthday. By the 1980s, President’s Day became the commonly accepted name for the holiday due to a push from advertisers, retailers, and people of the nation, hence the designation that is publicly used to name this patriotic holiday. Throughout the country and in Washington D.C., celebrations, ceremonies, and parades are held to honor George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the accomplishments of all Presidents of the United States.
Traditions and Observances
Since 1862, it has been tradition to read George Washington’s Farewell Address in the United States Senate every year on his birthday. This tradition continues to take place to honor the first President of the United States.
In Washington D.C., President’s Day can be celebrated by visiting the White House, Madame Tussauds US Presidents Gallery, and Mount Vernon, just sixteen miles south of the city. Home to George Washington and his wife Martha for more than forty years, Mount Vernon holds special events the weekend of his birth with three full days of birthday celebrations. Visitors can enjoy George Washington’s favorite breakfast, a joyous parade, and an official wreath laying ceremony held at his tomb.
Across the nation, communities celebrate President’s Day in many different ways. The city of Alexandria, Virginia hosts a month-long tribute and holds the country’s largest President’s Day parade. This year, their George Washington Birthday Parade will take place on February 20, 2012, in the streets where Washington once walked himself.
For those looking to explain the importance of this holiday to younger children, crafts are a great way to do so. Some creative ideas are to make a powdered wig out of cotton balls, like George Washington used to wear, or a tall black hat, like Abraham Lincoln wore, with a paper plate and construction paper.
Did You Know?
Except for George Washington, all Presidents of the United States have lived in the White House. While Washington oversaw construction of the White House, it was not until 1800 that the first President moved in, President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams.