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Do You Know Why We Celebrate Presidents’ Day?

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Posted on February 3, 2016 by Delaware Valley University.

Presidents' Day is recognized as a national holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday in February. But as you enjoyed the day off of school, did you ever wonder why we celebrate Presidents' Day? Find out how this holiday came about.

Washington's Birthday

The story of Presidents' Day begins right after first president George Washington's death in 1799. The United States decided to remember him on his day of birth, February 22. The nation believed that he was to be celebrated due to his importance of American history and events such as the 1832 centennial of his birth and the start of the construction of the Washington Monument in 1848.

The people of the nation observed this day for most of the 1800s, with it becoming a federal holiday in the late 1870s, thanks to Arkansas Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey’s proposal. 

The Shift from Washington's Birthday to Presidents’ Day

In the late 1960s, Congress proposed what is known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This law stated that several federal holidays would be moved to predetermined Mondays to create more three-day weekends for the nation's workers. It was also to ensure that holidays also fell on the same weekday to reduce employee absenteeism. 

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also combined the holiday of Washington's Birthday with Abraham Lincoln's. This joined the two days to give recognition to two of America's most famous presidents. 

This act was passed in 1968 and took effect in 1971 by the order of President Richard Nixon, moving the commemoration of Washington's Birthday on February 22 to the third Monday of February.

Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day were also moved from their original dates.

Presidents' Day Takes Effect

While Nixon ordered the holiday celebrating Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays to simply be called Washington's Birthday, the shift to Presidents' Day began to take effect. 

By the mid 1980s, Washington's Birthday was known to Americans as Presidents' Day. By early 2000s, half of the 50 states changed the name to Presidents' Day on their calendars.

While Washington and Lincoln still remain the most recognized leaders, Presidents' Day also recognizes the lives and achievements of America's chief executives as a whole. 

Presidents' Day Celebrations

President's Day is viewed as a patriotic holiday where we remember those who have led our country and helped us through difficult times. Reenactments, celebrations and other events are typically staged during this day. A number of states also require that public schools spend the days leading up to this holiday teaching about it.

So while you're taking a break from classes this Presidents' Day, remember the executive officers who have led the nation. Click here to check out DelVal's blog for more information.