History of President’s Day
President’s Day began in 1800 after George Washington’s death in 1799. After his death, his birthday became a day of remembrance for the man who has been called the Father of the Country. The holiday was unofficially observed for most of the 1800s and became a federal holiday in 1870. It was signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879, but was initially only for the District of Columbia, but expanded to the entire country by 1885. It was the first holiday to celebrate the life of an individual.
In the late 1960s, Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The act shifted several federal holidays from specific dates to predetermined Mondays. It was thought that moving the holidays to Monday would give employees additional three-day weekends and reduce employee absenteeism. The act included a provision to combine Washington’s birthday, which falls on February 22, with Lincoln’s birthday, which falls on February 12.
Lincoln’s birthday had been a state holiday in some areas and many supported recognising Lincoln’s contributions to the country by combining the holidays. In addition to President’s Day, Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day were moved to Monday holidays, although Veteran’s Day was moved back to November 11 due to widespread criticism.
During the early days of the holiday, people spent time reflecting on the contributions of the country’s leaders. Although the day is designed to celebrate all presidents in the country, it is mainly used to pay homage to Washington and Lincoln. The most common celebration is based in the economy as many retail outlets offer significant sales for President’s Day, leading many citizens to spend the day shopping.
Schools and offices are closed on President’s Day. However, students spend a significant amount of time learning about the history of the United States and the social responsibilities that come with being a citizen of the country during the month of February.
George Washington’s farewell address is read in Congress every February 22nd since 1862. Only during the Civil War was it read more than once in a year in order to boost morale.