What Are We Celebrating on Presidents’ Day?

Posted on February 18, 2011 by

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Many people think that Presidents’ Day is to celebrate all of the American presidents, both living and dead. But the original celebration of Presidents’ Day was to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. The non-confederate states would also celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. A bill was eventually passed for Washington’s birthday to become a national holiday, and this bill was signed into law by President Chester Arthur.

Until then, the nation had only celebrated Washington’s Birthday as a national holiday, and Lincoln’s Birthday was celebrated as a legal holiday. Many people really wanted to celebrate both leaders on the same day. Later, the government under Richard Nixon would change the date to make these reformers happier. The date was moved to the third Monday of February instead of February 22nd so that both presidents would be celebrated. This day was between both of the presidents’ birthdays so that both leaders could be recognized. Changing the date was an effective solution because some states had three February holidays to celebrate: Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, and Valentine’s Day.

What is strange, however, is that the name of the holiday was never officially changed by the federal government. People who liked the idea of celebrating both Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthdays unofficially changed the name by calling it Presidents’ Day, thereby making it easier to recognize both presidents.

But that temporary solution evolved into a bigger problem. People eventually came to think that the day was for a celebration of only the current president.

A Congressional committee eventually considered moving the date to March 4th, but that never happened. Today the holiday is considered to be a day on which all past presidents are celebrated.

Spencer Reiter commented, “I believe it’s a holiday that gives us a chance to think about the lesson we can all learn from the lives of those who have reached the highest office in the United States.”

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