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The United States observes President’s Day on the third Monday of February. On this day, public schools and government offices are closed, all in celebration of the birthday of the first president, George Washington, who was born February 22, 1732.
The holiday was formally established in 1885, but its roots can be traced back to 1800. George Washington died in 1799, the year after which February 22 became a national day of remembrance, but not yet a federal holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes made Washington’s Birthday a federal holiday, but this distinction only applied within Washington, D.C.. In 1885, the occasion became a federal holiday for the entire country.
Washington’s Birthday became President’s Day in 1971, following congressional action in the 1960s around something known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The Illinois senator Robert McClory proposed this law to mandate that federal holidays that celebrated a person, including Washington’s Birthday and Columbus Day, would always fall on Mondays. This way, families could take advantage of three-day weekends for vacations. According to Time Magazine, many agreed that this would be good for business.
Also included in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was the merging of Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthday celebrations, which is why the holiday now goes by President’s Day. The shift to calling the occasion President’s Day has never been a legal one; the third Monday of every month is still officially titled Washington’s Birthday in all federal communications, but with the occasion newly celebrating two presidents, the name “President’s Day” has stuck.
Regardless of its title, President’s Day allows for reflection on what this country’s first presidency achieved and provides extra time to spend with friends and loved ones. If you’re looking for ideas of what to do with your extra day off, you can find our suggestions here.