It’s the 3rd Monday in February and depending on where you live you may or may not be celebrating a holiday today. While federal government offices close and the majority of states’ offices do so as well, many businesses make the most of the holiday by offering patriotic-themed sales.
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 still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.
President’s Day never actually falls on the birthday of any American president. Four chief executives—George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan—were born in February, but their birthdays all come either too early or late to coincide with Presidents’ Day.
Washington
The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day began in the late 1960s when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Championed by Senator Robert McClory of Illinois, this law sought to shift the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays. The proposed change was seen by many as a novel way to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers, and it was believed that ensuring holidays always fell on the same weekday would reduce employee absenteeism. While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill also had widespread support from both the private sector and labor unions and was seen as a surefire way to bolster retail sales.
The main piece of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and officially took effect in 1971 following an executive order from President Richard Nixon. Washington’s Birthday was then shifted from the fixed date of February 22 to the third Monday of February.
Presidents’ Day is the one holiday that is almost universally IN-consistent among the states. While 38 of the states celebrate some type of holiday on the third Monday in February, only 24 of 50 states celebrate solely the federal equivalent. Another 9 states only celebrate Washington’s actual birthday. And 9 states (Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) do not celebrate anything at all!