Category Archives: Uncategorized

Observance of the Day

Today, the February holiday has become well-known for being a day in which many stores, especially car dealers, hold sales. Until the late 1980s, corporate businesses generally closed on this day, similar to present corporate practices on Memorial Day or Christmas Day. With the late 1980s advertising push to rename the holiday, more and more businesses are staying open on the holiday each year, and, as on Veterans Day and Columbus Day, most delivery services outside of the U.S. Postal Service now offer regular service on the day as well. Some public transit systems have also gone to regular schedules on the day. Many colleges and universities hold regular classes and operations on Presidents Day. Various theories exist for this, one accepted reason being to make up for the growing trend of corporations to close in observance of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, when reviewing the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill debate of 1968 in the Congressional Record, one notes that supporters of the Bill were intent on moving federal holidays to Mondays to promote business. Over time, as with many federal holidays, few Americans actually celebrate Washington’s Birthday, and it is mainly known as a day off from work or school, although many non-governmental workers do not take the day off.

Consequently, some schools, which used to close for a single day for both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday, now often close for the entire week (beginning with the Monday holiday) as a “mid-winter recess”. For example, the New York City school district began doing so in the 1990s. In return, however, most schools cut back Easter recess, traditionally a two-week break, to a week, or eliminate it altogether (except for, usually, Good Friday) in some years in favor of a “late spring recess” in late April or early May.

The federal holiday Washington’s Birthday honors the accomplishments of the man known as “The Father of his Country”. Celebrated for his leadership in the founding of the nation, he was the Electoral College’s unanimous choice to become the first President; he was seen as a unifying force for the new republic and set an example for future holders of the office.

The holiday is also a tribute to the general who created the first military badge of merit for the common soldier. Revived on Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932, the Purple Heart medal is awarded to soldiers who are injured in battle. As with Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Washington’s Birthday offers another opportunity to honor the country’s veterans.

Community celebrations often display a lengthy heritage. Historic Alexandria, Virginia, hosts a month-long tribute, including the longest running George Washington Birthday parade, while the community of Eustis, Florida, continues its annual “George Fest” celebration begun in 1902. In Denver, Colorado there is a society dedicated to observing the day. At the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia, visitors are treated to birthday celebrations throughout the federal holiday weekend and through February 22.

In Alabama the third Monday in February commemorates the birthdays of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (who was born in April).

In Arkansas the third Monday in February is “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day,” an official state holiday.

In New Mexico Presidents Day, at least as a state government paid holiday, is observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving.

In 2007 the country celebrated both Washington’s 275th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the rebirth of the Purple Heart medal.

Since 1862 there has been a tradition in the United States Senate that George Washington’s Farewell Address be read on his birthday. Citizens had asked that this be done in light of the approaching Civil War. The annual tradition continues with the reading of the address on or near Washington’s Birthday.

The History of Washington’s Birthday or President’s Day

Titled Washington’s Birthday, a federal holiday honoring George Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1880 for government offices in the District of Columbia (20 Stat. 277) and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices (23 Stat. 516). As the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, the holiday was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22. On January 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This date places it between February 15 and 21, which makes the name “Washington’s Birthday” a misnomer, since it never lands on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22.

The first attempt to create a Presidents’ Day occurred in 1951 when the “President’s Day National Committee” was formed by Harold Stonebridge Fischer of Compton, California, who became its National Executive Director for the next two decades. The purpose was not to honor any particular President, but to honor the office of the Presidency. It was first thought that March 4, the original inauguration day, should be deemed Presidents’ Day. However, the bill recognizing the March 4th date was stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee (which had authority over national holidays). That committee felt that, because of its proximity to Lincoln’s and Washington Birthdays, three holidays so close together would be unduly burdensome.  During this time, however, the Governors of a majority of the individual states issued proclamations declaring March 4 to be Presidents’ Day in their respective jurisdictions.

An early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act would have renamed the holiday to Presidents’ Day to honor the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln, which would explain why the chosen date falls between the two, but this proposal failed in committee and the bill as voted on and signed into law on 28 June 1968, kept the name Washington’s Birthday.

By the mid-1980s, with a push from advertisers, the term “Presidents’ Day” began its public appearance. Although Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, was never a federal holiday, approximately a dozen state governments have officially renamed their Washington’s Birthday observances as “Presidents’ Day”, “Washington and Lincoln Day”, or other such designations. However, “Presidents’ Day” is not always an all-inclusive term.

  • In Massachusetts, the state officially celebrates “Washington’s Birthday” on the same day as the Federal holiday. State law also directs the governor to issue an annual “Presidents Day” proclamation on May 29 honoring the presidents with Massachusetts roots: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy.
  • Alabama uniquely observes the day as “Washington and Jefferson Day”, even though Thomas Jefferson’s birthday is in April.
  • In Connecticut, Missouri and Illinois, while Washington’s Birthday is a federal holiday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is still a state holiday, falling on February 12 regardless of the day of the week.
  • In Washington’s home state of Virginia, the holiday is legally known as “George Washington Day.”