Today is Presidents’ Day, a day in which many Americans will have an extra day off to add to their weekend. But do you know why today is a national holiday or the origins of Presidents’ Day?
Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, Presidents’ Day is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22, Washington’s actual day of birth, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act in an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s Birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s, which fell on the proximate date of February 12. Lincoln’s Birthday had long been a state holiday in places like Illinois, and many supported joining the two days as a way of giving equal recognition to two of America’s most famous statesmen. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.
Like Independence Day, Presidents’ Day is traditionally viewed as a time of patriotic celebration and remembrance. In its original incarnation as Washington’s Birthday, the holiday gained special meaning during the difficulties of the Great Depression, when portraits of George Washington often graced the front pages of newspapers and magazines every February 22. In 1932 the date was used to reinstate the Purple Heart, a military decoration originally created by George Washington to honor soldiers killed or wounded while serving in the armed forces. Patriotic groups and the Boy Scouts of America also held celebrations on the day, and in 1938 some 5,000 people attended mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in honor of Washington. In its modern form, Presidents’ Day is used by many patriotic and historical groups as a date for staging celebrations, reenactments and other events. A number of states also require that their public schools spend the days leading up to Presidents’ Day teaching students about the accomplishments of the presidents.
Did you know that Presidents’ Day never falls on the actual birthday of any American president? Four chief executives were born in February (George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan) but their birthdays all come either too early or late to coincide with Presidents’ Day.
To see more fun facts about the leaders of our great nation, check out this video with some Presidents’ Day Fun Facts: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/presidents-day/videos/presidential-fun-facts