Reflections: Washington's Birthday or Presidents' Day?
Washington's Birthday or Presidents' Day?
By William L. Bulla
What do we call it? Is it Washington's Birthday or Presidents' Day?
On Monday, the nation celebrates a national holiday. Is it Presidents' Day? Or should we call it George Washington's Birthday? What should we call that holiday? While many are calling it Presidents' Day, others say it is officially Washington's Birthday.
Our Nation's first federal holiday to honor an American citizen is now officially designated as Washington's Birthday. The holiday was first celebrated on George Washington's actual birthday, Feb. 22, 1796 during the last full year of his presidency. In 1885, Congress voted to make it an official federal holiday. It is still officially called "Washington's Birthday" by the federal government, though celebrated in some states as Presidents' Day. Traditionally celebrated on Feb. 22, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents' Day after it was moved as part of 1971's Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This would supposedly give families a three-day weekend and would minimize midweek holiday interruptions for businesses. The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in February.
One draft of the act proposed to rename the holiday Presidents' Day to honor both Washington and Lincoln. This version did not pass. But President Richard Nixon referred to the holiday as Presidents' Day. The new name took hold, and began appearing regularly in holiday advertisements and in the media by the mid-1980s. Numerous businesses, especially retail, use the Presidents' Day designation to hold big sales events. They like the idea of a sales event joining Lincoln's birthday celebration with a Washington's birthday celebration, thus extending the sale events over a longer period of time.
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. Meanwhile, many state governments and school districts now use the term "Presidents' Day" to feature activities honoring both Lincoln and George Washington.
Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress, nor any President, has ever officially changed the name of the holiday to Presidents' Day. By law, the holiday retains his name. The day reminds us that Washington was the commander of the American troops in our War for Independence. He was the first president of the United States. He was the symbol of honor, dignity, and honesty that made our Nation great. We certainly should not allow him, and his dedication, be overlooked by the nation he helped bring forth out of tyranny. The day must be reclaimed in his honor and his alone as part of an effort to reaffirm our shared national heritage.
William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.