Presidents' Day is a holiday celebrated all around the U.S.A. Many stores have great sales, people have big parties and go on vacations while enjoying the first three-day weekend of the year. But why do we celebrate Presidents' day? Who are we celebrating? George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? Thomas Jefferson? Getting to know the history behind this holiday can be a fun and enlightening experience! It has roots that stretch back to the very beginnings of American history and is centered around American hero and legendary first president George Washington!
Presidents' Day is officially known as Washington's Birthday and was established as a national holiday in 1885. George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But why did it become a holiday? When Washington passed away in 1799, his birthday became a day of remembrance the following year: 1800. For 85 years the "most important figure in American history" was celebrated unofficially with things like parks and monuments. Then in 1879 was officially made a federal holiday celebrated in only Washington D.C. Six years later the holiday was expanded to include the entire country!
While most people believe that Presidents' Day celebrates both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays, the holiday is still intended as a celebration of the first president and does not include the sixteenth! When the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was submitted it did include a provision that would have meant the holiday celebrated Lincoln's birthday as well; both Washington and Lincoln were born in February. However, while some people supported the idea, most did not, and ultimately the idea was dropped.
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The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was a piece of legislation presented by Senator Robert McClory in the late 1960s. He proposed that a number of different holidays should be moved from random days in the week to Monday's. It was considered a novel and exciting way to provide more three-day weekends for American workers. It also meant that retail companies could bolster profits through well-timed sales. While some people were against the idea, most people were ready for a long weekend!
While Washington's birthday is the 22nd of February, because of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Presidents' Day is always held on the third Monday of February. Interestingly, this has meant that Presidents' Day has never actually fallen on Washington's birthday! February 22nd has always happened too late to fall on the third Monday of the month!
While most people think of Washington and Lincoln as being the only reasons for Presidents' Day, they are just two of four presidents who celebrated their birthday's during this month. The presidents with birthdays in February are:
Not one of them has a birthday that falls on Presidents' Day making it the perfect holiday to celebrate these presidents and their contributions to American history.
Chances are you've seen car and mattress commercials advertising a big Presidents' Day sale, but what else happens on Presidents' Day? Traditionally cherry pie is served in honor of the story of Washington chopping down a cherry tree. George Washington's hometown, Alexandria, Virginia, hosts a month-long tribute to the former president and at Mount Vernon there are holiday celebrations over the course of the weekend. You can also find places where his Farewell Address is being read. The holiday was also used in 1932 to bring back the Purple Heart, a medal that George Washington gave during the American Revolution.
Since Presidents' Day is a federal holiday, there are a number of different public and private businesses and offices that are closed. In general, you will find that all federal buildings and non-essential government offices are closed, the post office is closed and mail will not be delivered, many banks are closed, and that most schools, including higher education campuses, are closed in observance of the holiday!
George Washington was the first president of the United States, but there are other reasons that we celebrate his contributions to America. He served as commander-in-chief of the colonial armies during the American Revolution. He was unanimously chosen as the first president. He knew his presidency would set the standard for all others to follow and took care to ensure he attended to all the duties and responsibilities of his office. Washington established the idea of a two-term limit on the presidency. He was considered a man of great personal integrity and his greatest legacy is the idea that liberty is greater than any one person.
George Washington was one of nine children! His father died when he was 11 years old and his older half-brother raised him. At the age of 26, he married a widow a few months older than himself named Martha Dandridge Custis. She had two young children named John and Martha. While he and Martha never had any children of their own, George Washington raised John, called Jacky, and Martha, called Patsy, as his own. Patsy died just before the American Revolution and Jacky died during it. Heartbroken, George Washington adopted two of Jacky's children.
Washington was well-loved and respected, both at home in America and abroad by those he dealt with politically. His legacy includes a number of well thought out quotes that are good to live by:
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