Presidents’ Day is celebrated annually on the third Monday in February in honor of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, which are both this month. The holiday began in 1879, when an act of Congress implemented a Federal Holiday for government offices in Washington, DC entitled George Washington’s Birthday. In 1885, it was expanded to include all federal offices. As it was the first federal holiday to honor an American president, it was first celebrated on February 22nd, Washington’s actual birthday.
However, on January 1st, 1971, it was shifted to the current third Monday pattern due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The intent of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was to increase the number of three-day weekends for federal employees. The act moved five holidays from specific dates to always Mondays – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans’ Day (though Veterans’ Day was later returned to November 11th).
This places the holiday between February 15th and 21st each year, which makes the name “George Washington’s Birthday,” a bit of a misnomer, as it can never occur on his actual birthday.
An early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act would have renamed the holiday “Presidents’ Day,” but the proposal failed in committee. However, by the mid-1980s, due to a push from advertisers, the term “Presidents’ Day,” made its public appearance. Approximately a dozen state governments have since renamed the holiday “Presidents’ Day,” “Washington and Lincoln’s Birthdays,” or some other more inclusive moniker.
In recent years, the day has become known as one in which many stores – especially car dealerships – hold sales. Until the 1980s, corporate businesses generally closed for the day, similar to practices on holidays like Christmas and Memorial Day.
Whatever the official name, we hope you enjoy today!