President’s Day: An Origin Story

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Kimberly Fisher

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President’s Day: An Origin Story

Mr. Bifulco, the AP U.S. History teacher, and Mr. Richard Wiggins, the AP U.S. Government teacher, both thought that Presidents’ Day started during the Cold War to instill patriotism in American lives. That it was a day to create “contrast” between America and Russia, as Mr. Wiggins put it. Senior Jaden Bellar believes that Presidents’ Day was created in order to honor the past presidents. William Rosenberg, another senior, admits that he is unsure how the holiday started, but is sure it started around the 1800s.

However, Presidents’ Day has a completely different origin. It was started to celebrate the life and accomplishments of one particular person: President George Washington. Washington was instrumental in freeing America from British rule during the Revolutionary War and went on to serve two terms as the first President of America. When he died in 1799, the nation went into heavy mourning. He was considered one of the forefathers of America and he established the the basic parameters of the presidential powers and proved to the skeptical citizens that a single person could be the president and not abuse the power associated with it.

To celebrate him and all that he had accomplished, the government established Washington’s birthday, February 22nd, as a national holiday in 1885. They wanted to remember Washington and all he had given for his country. As it was originally created as “Washington’s Birthday,” the federal government still refers to it as such.      

The date was moved from February 22nd to the third Monday of the month as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 and officially took hold as an executive order from President Richard Nixon in 1971. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved several national holidays, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and Columbus Day, to name a few, to Mondays in order to give government workers more three day weekends. Due to this shift, people started to refer to the date as “Presidents’ Day” since it was between Washington’s birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

Presidents’ Day is not celebrated in the way that Fourth of July is. During the Great Depression, it became a day to reinstate the Purple Heart, a military decoration originally created by Washington, in 1932 and patriotic groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, held their own celebrations for this day. Today, Presidents’ Day is used by many patriotic and historical groups as a date for staging celebrations, reenactments and other events as well as big businesses capitalizing on the three day weekend by hosting “Presidents’ Day Sales” to encourage more of the working class to spend money.

For other people, it is a time for people to spend time with their families. Wiggins, if the weather permits, like to grill for his family and spend time with them. Bellar and Rosenberg do not do anything special for this particular day.  

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