PRESIDENT’S DAY or WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY? – Are they one and the same?

Every February Presidents’ Day seems to have becomes little more than another excuse for retailers to have yet  another “sale to end all sales”, but in reality President’s Day was created as a way to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of the first President of the United States of America, George Washington.

Schools often dedicate classwork to George Washington in February, and some provide events that teach students about the importance of Washington’s contributions to the formation of the United States.

The United States Senate has a long-standing tradition to read George Washington’s Farewell Address every year in observance of his birthday. This tradition first started in 1862 and is apparently still being practiced today.

While Washington’s Birthday was observed unofficially for most of the 1800s, it was not until the late 1870s that it became a federal holiday. Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas was the first to propose the idea, and in 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law, which recognized Washington with the first federal holiday to honor a person.
Remembering and honoring Washington was originally celebrated with parties and galas in Washington, D.C., with the tried and true favorite pastime of drinking. This tradition continued for the next 90 years, or so. The holiday initially only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country.

Since it was originally established in recognition only of President George Washington, it is still “officially” called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22, Washington’s actual day of birth, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers.

Led by Senator Robert McClory of Illinois, this law sought to shift the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays. The change was seen by many as an ideal way to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers, and it was believed that ensuring holidays always fell on the same weekday would reduce employee absenteeism.

While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill also had widespread support from both the private sector and labor unions and was seen as an excellent way to boost retail sales.
But the move away from February 22 led many to believe that the new date was intended to honor both Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as it now fell between their two birthdays. Marketers soon jumped at the opportunity to play up the three-day weekend with sales, and “Presidents’ Day” bargains were advertised at stores around the country.

While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.

But to some, combining Washington together with the 42 other men who have been elected president in this country does not give him the significance he deserves.  Washington was the only president to be elected unanimously, twice. Washington essentially shaped the office of the president.  He knew that his actions and decisions would set important precedents for shaping this country into what it is today. 

While every president has made their mark and can be remembered for their contributions, there are some that believe that Washington should be given singular attention on this day. Some of the reasons include his critical role as commander in chief during the Revolutionary War, his refusal to become king when others called for it, and his ability to hold the nation together during European conflicts.

Every February, there are still some patriots that believe that the thousands of retailers and car dealerships should stop cheapening the day with their massive “Presidents’ Day” sales.  And there will always be the firm belief that his annual holiday is not “Presidents’ Day.”  Officially, it is the national tribute to only one president, the first president, the father of our country, and to many, the best President, George Washington.