Presidents Day, which is observed every third Monday in February to recognize all the U.S. Presidents, is coming upon us on Monday, February 20, 2012. It’s an interesting holiday in that it wasn’t originally meant as a day to recognize all U.S. Presidents. Originally, this holiday goes back to 1800 when it was recognized as George Washington’s birthday. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, Washington’s Birthday became an established, though not official, national holiday. Americans would honor Washington by throwing lavish Balls and receptions attended by prominent socialites and public figures.
Things changed with the appearance of Abraham Lincoln during the second half of the 19th century. Lincoln, whose birthday falls on the 12th of February, wasn’t really that well respected until his assassination in April 1865. However, with his assassination, he overnight became a beloved figure to the American people which he is through today. He was formally honored on his birthday in 1865, one year after his assassination. To commemorate his death, both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address, on the day of his birth. Unfortunately for Lincoln, his birthday did not become a legitimate national holiday like Washington’s did, but it did become a legal holiday in several states. Washington’s Birthday became an official holiday in 1880, becoming the first
federal holiday to honor an American citizen. It was to be celebrated on February 22.
Moving forward to the late 1960’s, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was put in place to simplify yearly calendars and begin a practice of having existing federal holidays observed on Mondays to give government workers a long weekend. The act went into effect in 1971 shifting the observation of Washington’s Birthday to the third Monday in February instead of on the 22nd. And although this holiday is still officially known as Washington’s Birthday, it has become popularly known as Presidents’ Day. This now makes the third Monday in February a day for honoring both Washington and Lincoln as well as for all U.S. presidents.
According to paid holiday surveys, between 30-34% of U.S. employers provide Presidents Day as a paid holiday. And for the record in case you think we’re misspelling it and it should be President’s Day, there is a variation in how it is rendered. Both Presidents Day and Presidents’ Day are common today, and both are considered correct by dictionaries and usage manuals. However, President’s Day is a misspelling when used with the intention of celebrating more than one individual President.