Monday, February 20, is Presidents’ Day, the national holiday celebrated across the United States every third Monday of February. Initially created to pay homage to President George Washington’s birthday, the holiday is now popularly recognized as a celebration of both Washington’s and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays.
Presidents’ Day is marked by public ceremonies and city, state, and federal office closings, including the U.S. Postal service. Most schools, banks, and some private businesses are closed; however, many retail stores offer sales on the holiday. President’s Day is one of 12 permanent federal holidays (New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Inauguration Day (every four years), Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) established by the U.S. government.
Uniform Monday Holiday Act
Americans first began celebrating Washington’s birthday just months after his death in 1799. However, his birthday did not become a legal holiday until 1879 when then-President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the February 22 holiday into law. Almost 100 years later, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which moved some federal holidays, such as Washington’s birthday, to the third Monday of February regardless of which day his actual birthday fell on. The purpose was to give workers designated three-day weekends throughout the year. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act became official in 1971 and included a provision to add Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which fell on February 12, to the holiday. Lincoln’s birthday was already celebrated in many states, and officials believed both of the country’s most revered leaders at that time should be honored. Presidents’ Day is traditionally viewed as a day of patriotic celebration.
To learn more about Presidents Washington and Lincoln or any other U.S. presidents, visit the National Archives.