Hello everyone, welcome to this new week!
I thought we could start it off establishing a new rubric called “American Events”. Complementary to the “American Icons” they will mostly cover American holidays and what their meaning is. So another little educational segment for you that will hopefully be somewhat interesting. Don’t worry though, tomorrow we’ll be back with a light and easy program (supermarket-related, oh yes).
Back to business now. Today is President’s Day. I didn’t know anything about it until last week. When people started talking about their long weekend plans I figured that it had to be a holiday. But what does it mean? Spoiler alert: It’s a somewhat confusing holiday that’s for sure.
President’s Day confusion: Part 1
Unlike with other holidays where it is really really clear what is being celebrated, President’s Day is kind of strange and confusing. Why, you ask?
- There is no universal agreement on the actual name of the holiday (its official name is Washington’s Birthday yet a lot of people commonly refer to it as President’s Day)
- There is no universal agreement on which presidents are being honored (it is officially the birthday of George Washington yet a lot of people believe both Washington and Lincoln are commemorated, as both their birthdays are in February)
I’v even asked a few people at volunteering in the hopes this would clear things up a little. But honestly, everyone told me something different.
In short: Presidents’ Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, it is officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government.
A few quick words about George:
He’s a very very important dude.
Throughout the 19th century, Washington was THE most important figure of U.S. history to the American public. He commanded the Continental Army, led the American colonies to victory, was the first President and referred to as “Father of Our Country”. Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. Under this act, from 1971 onwards the observance date of Washington’s Birthday would be moved to the third Monday in February. So it’s actually not even his real birthday.
I KNOW, CONFUSING.
President’s Day confusion: Part 2
Some states honor both Washington, who was born February 22, and Abraham Lincoln, who was born February 12. Other states honor Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but not Lincoln, on this holiday and some states honor all the presidents. Then there are a handful of states, including Illinois that have declared Lincoln’s birthday a state holiday. In Virginia, Washington’s home state, the holiday is called George Washington’s Day. In Alabama, it is called “Washington and Jefferson Day” (although Jefferson’s birthday is in April).
It gets more and more confusing, right?
Conclusion: It’s a day off
What we do know:
- It’s a day off. That I know for sure. People are happy about it.
- It’s a day where retailers hold a sales holiday, meaning people go shopping.
- Many patriotic and historical groups use it as a date for celebrations, reenactments and events. Some states also require that 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.