By: Shannon Bishop
USAG Public Affairs
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a federal holiday for each one of the American presidents’ birthdays? There would be 44 federal holidays, just for birthdays—not to mention the other holidays such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works—there is one holiday to recognize all 44 presidents of the United States, which we know as Presidents’ Day.
Each year Presidents’ Day is intended to honor all American presidents, but more specifically, to honor the birthdays of presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The holiday began in 1800, the year after Washington’s death.
Presidents’ Day is traditionally viewed as a time of patriotic celebration and remembrance. This holiday gained special meaning during the Great Depression, when portraits of Washington often made the front pages of newspapers and magazines every February 22.
In 1932, Presidents’ Day was used to reinstate the Purple Heart, a military decoration originally created by Washington to honor Soldiers killed or wounded while serving in the Armed Forces.
In 1968, the 90th Congress created a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. With this in place, the recognition for both presidents’ birthdays would be recognized on the third Monday in February each year.
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, often with a focus on the lives of Washington and Lincoln.
Washington’s actual birthday is Feb. 22 and Lincoln’s is Feb. 12.