February 20th Is Presidents Day

February 19th, 2012 by Craig Mullins

Believe it or not, there is more to Presidents Day than department store sales and a long holiday weekend.

While the holiday is loosely meant to honor all American Presidents, its main purpose is to pay respect to Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The history of Presidents Day begins in the 1790s, when Americans celebrated the birthday of our country’s first president, George Washington.

According to the Gregorian calendar, which is most commonly used today, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. However, according to the Julian calendar, which was used in England until 1752, George Washington was born on February 11th.

Fun Facts About George Washington:

– George Washington was an Episcopalian

– He had many vocations including Planter, Surveyor, and a General in the Military.

– George married Martha Dandridge Custis on January 6, 1759.

– Although he served as President, Washington did not identify with any particular political party; he was, in fact, opposed to the idea of separate political parties.

– The only President to be elected with a unanimous vote.

– George Washington died on December 14, 1799 at the age of 67.

After Abraham Lincoln left his indelible mark upon the country, it was decided that he too deserved a day of recognition. The fact that his birthday fell on February 12th, made the month of February an obvious choice during which to celebrate both great men in American history.

Fun Facts About Abraham Lincoln:

– He identified as a Presbyterian although he never officially joined a church.

– Lincoln held many occupations including Clerk, Store Owner, Lawyer, and Captain in the Military.

– In 1849 he patented a system to alter buoyancy of steamboats.

– As President, Lincoln created a national banking system with the National Banking Act in 1863, resulting in a standardized currency.

– Lincoln was the first president to have a beard, as well as the first one to be assassinated.

– A week before Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, it is said that he had a dream of someone crying in the White House and when he found the room from which the noise was coming he looked in and asked who had passed away. The man in the room said the President and when Lincoln looked in the coffin it was his own face that he saw.

Prior to 1968, President Washington and President Lincoln were honored on two separate days – February 12th for Lincoln, and the 22nd for Washington.

When the 90th Congress decided in 1968 to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays, three existing holidays were shifted to Mondays, including Washington’s Birthday. In 1971, the law took effect and as a result, the holiday of Washington’s Birthday was changed to the third Monday in February.

This decision turned out to be a point of contention for many Americans, who worried that George Washington’s identity would be lost because the holiday would never fall on his actual birthday. Around the same time there was an effort to rename the public holiday “Presidents’ Day” but the idea never gained much ground due to the belief by some that not all presidents deserved recognition.

It wasn’t until 1999, when bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978), that talks to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington’s Birthday be “officially” called by that name surfaced once again. Both bills died in committees.

While Congress has created a uniform federal holiday law, there is not a uniform holiday title agreement among the individual states. States such as California, Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas have chosen not to maintain the federal holiday title and have renamed their state holiday on the third Monday of February “President’s Day.”

Activities and events honoring President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln during the month of February include:

– The George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Virginia holds an annual birthday celebration on President’s Day as well as on Washington’s birth date, with special colonial activities held throughout the day.

– Mount Vernon, which is now part of the Washington Memorial Parkway, honors our first president with a fee-free day on the third Monday of February.

– The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Kentucky honors our 16th president with a wreath laying ceremony each year on February 12th.

– At the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana has “Lincoln Day” on the Sunday closest to February 12th.

– Also on February 12th, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois has special birthday programs.

These days, President’s Day is widely accepted and celebrated, and while some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, most often local celebrations are held on the weekend preceding the third Monday in February.

Happy Presidents Day!! How are you celebrating?

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