President Day - Washington's Birthday: History, Significance and Activities
Happy Presidents' Day. Photo:

What is Presidents' Day?

According to Merriam-Webster, Presidents' Day is on the third Monday in February observed as a legal holiday in most of the states of the U.S. in honor of the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln

The federal name for this holiday according to the United States Code is Washington's Birthday, but many states and municipalities refer to it as Presidents' Day, honoring both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It is also sometimes considered to be in honor of all U.S. presidents.

Is Presidents' Day a Public Holiday?

Presidents' Day is a public holiday in most US states. Nonetheless, many businesses are open as usual and many stores hold sales on Washington's Birthday. Many delivery services, except for the Post Office, have a regular service, and many, but not all, public transit systems operate on regular schedules. Some schools close for the whole week for a mid-winter recess. According to some government sources, Indiana observes Washington's birthday holiday in December, wrote timeanddate.

History of President Day

After the death of George Washington in 1799, his birthday was unofficially celebrated as a day of remembrance called Washington Day. Throughout the 1800s, people used this day to honor the man that shaped America and the legacy he left. In 1832, a resolution permitted the removal and internment of George Washington’s body in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. and the erection of the Washington Monument in 1848 caused more celebrations nationwide, reported National Today.

It wasn’t until the late 1870s that Steven Wallace Dorsey proposed that Washington’s birthday should become a national federal holiday. President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law in 1879 and joined the four existing bank holidays that were previously approved in 1870. Because of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy and the proximity of his birthday on February 12, it’s proposed that Washington Day should become Presidents’ Day to celebrate both men, but that idea was rejected by Congress.

Washington’s Birthday didn’t officially become Presidents’ Day until the late 1960s. Senator Robert McClory of Illinois concocted a plan that moved key bank holidays to Mondays to increase the number of three-day weekends for workers in what’s known as the Uniform Monday’s Act. The hope was that it would increase productivity and decrease employee absenteeism. Unsurprisingly, the labor union agreed with this idea and so did the private sector.

In 1971, Richard M. Nixon made the executive order to pass the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which shifted Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day to Monday. With the date landing in the middle of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday. It became known as Presidents’ Day while having a simultaneous benefit for retail stores as they advertised their special sales events during this time. By the mid-1980s, Presidents’ Day became the common term and continues to this day.

George Washington

George Washington was the first president of the United States of America. His first term as president was from 1789 to 1793 and his second term from 1793 to 1797. Before he became president, he played important roles in the military, leading the American Continental Army to victory over the British in 1783. Washington is often seen as the father of the United States and is probably the best known American politician ever.

The likeness and name of George Washington can still be seen in many places in the United States. There is the portrait of him and three other American presidents carved into Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. His image is also used on the one-dollar bill and the quarter-dollar coin. The capital of the United States, Washington D.C., Washington State, and at least three universities are named after him.

Presidents' Day Celebrations and Traditions

President Day - Washington's Birthday: History, Significance and Activities

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 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, according to History.

President's Day Dishes

According to Almanac, you can make a cherry recipe to honor President’s Day! Here are some favorite cherry dishes for celebrating Washington’s birthday. They are easy to make and beautiful on the plate.

President’s Birthday Cherry Pie

President Day - Washington's Birthday: History, Significance and Activities

A good old fashioned Cherry Pie. One looks says it all. This one is gluten-free but it can easily be made in a gluten version too.

Cherry Bounce

President Day - Washington's Birthday: History, Significance and Activities

A delicious homemade liqueur dating back to George Washington; cherries, bourbon, and sugar, mixed and left to the side for up to three months. Boulderlocavore reported that it’s worth the wait!

Cherry Cream Pie

President Day - Washington's Birthday: History, Significance and Activities

Easy to make and wonderfully versatile. Try it with any type of fruit pie filling or with fresh or frozen fruit – strawberries or raspberries, for instance – over the cream cheese base.

Presidents' Day Recommended Activities

If you don't know what to do on Presidents' Day this year, you can try some suggested activities of National Today below!

Take a Historical Journey

There are plenty of historical sites and tours that you and your family can indulge in to learn about the history of the presidency. Washington D.C. is the obvious place, but if you don’t live in Virginia and don’t wish to travel, learn about your local government and how presidents have impacted your community. Your local history museum is sure to have documents and artifacts that are sure to enlighten.

Know Your Presidents

Take this time to historically deep-dive into the presidents that aren’t often spoken of. Everyone knows the names Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington, but what about Martin Van Buren and John Tyler? While they might not be as big as the greats, their time in office is a part of the legacy as a whole and important in their own right.

Make It a Game

Sometimes, we can take our history for granted, so why not create a quiz you can play at home? Split off into teams and write down questions about the presidents and the presidency. It has the dual benefit of informing everyone on American history, and as an added bonus, you can best everyone with your historical knowledge.

Presidents Days Quotes

President Day - Washington's Birthday: History, Significance and Activities
Photo: Pinterest

Here are a few presidential quotes in honor of Presidents’ Day:

“The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.” – George Washington

“I would rather belong to a poor nation that was free than to a rich nation that had ceased to be in love with liberty.” – Woodrow Wilson

“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” – James Madison

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – Harry S. Truman

“Posterity — you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.” – John Quincy Adams

“The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly.” – John F. Kennedy

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.” – Jimmy Carter

Presidents Days Around the World

Country Holiday Occasion Date
Kazakhstan First President Day Observes the election of Kazakhstan’s first president after gaining independence. December 1
Palau Presidents Day A day to honor the president and the presidency in general. June 1
Botswana Presidents Day A one-day public holiday for remembering the Presidents of the country July 19
Tajikistan Presidents Day The country started celebrating this day recently from 2016 onwards. November 16

When is President Day in 2021?

Presidents Day is celebrated every year on the third Monday of February - February 15 this year. All the presidents in American history are remembered and honored for their exemplary work in making America the great country it is today.

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