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President's Day - February 17, 2014
Presidents' Day is the common name for the United States federal holiday officially designated as Washington's Birthday. It is celebrated on the third Monday of February.
As the official title of the federal holiday, Washington's Birthday was originally implemented by the federal government in 1880 in the District of Columbia and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices. As the first federal holiday to honor an American-born citizen, the holiday was celebrated on Washington's actual birthday, February 22. In 1971 the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February.
In the late 1980s, with a push from advertisers, the term President's Day began its public appearance. The theme has expanded the focus of the holiday to honor another February President, Abraham Lincoln, and often other President of the United States|Presidents of the United States as well. Although Lincoln's birthday, February 12, was never a federal holiday, approximately a dozen state governments have officially renamed their Washington's Birthday observances as "Presidents' Day", "Washington and Lincoln Day", or other such designations. It is also interesting to note that "Presidents' Day" is not always an all-inclusive term. In Massachusetts, while their state holiday honors "Washington's Birthday", there is also a Presidents' Day Proclamation honoring the Presidents that have come from the New England area. Alabama uniquely observes the day as "Washington and Jefferson Day," even though Jefferson's birthday was in April.
In Washington's home state of Virginia the holiday is legally known as "George Washington Day."
George Washington was actually born on February 11 1731 of the Julian calendar, in use before England's calendar reformation in September 1752. His birthday is equivalent to February 22 1732 in the Gregorian calendar used since 1752. Later in life, Washington himself considered the 22d to be his birthday.
Public celebrations for George Washington's birthday actually predate his term as president, in honor of his service during the American Revolutionary War.
Observance of Washington's Birthday on the third Monday of February dates to the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill of 1968, which became effective in 1971. A draft of that bill called for a Presidents' Day to honor both Washington and Lincoln, but the Judiciary Committee voted the change down. The Congressional Record notes that had supporters insisted on changing the holiday's name, the entire bill would have remained in committee. Supporters of the bill assured Congress the Monday selected would be a day on which Washington's birth date would occasionally fall, but this was incorrect. The Monday on which Washington's birth date would have occasionally fallen would have been the fourth Monday in February.
In the late 1980s, advertisers began playing a role in changing the holiday title. In 1986, when Congress implemented the second federal holiday tribute to an American-born citizen, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Georgia, they choose a Monday on which King's birthday would occasionally fall. With neither Washington's birthdate of February 22, due to the Congressional error, nor Lincoln's birthdate of February 12, ever falling on the third Monday, the way was open to promote a generic agenda.
Advertisers, noting the discrepancy, began to aggressively amalgamate separate Lincoln and Washington birthday sales into a longer "Presidents' Day" sales period. The popularity of the term grew, and in the process the emphasis on Washington and his achievements began to diminish.
Interestingly enough, although Georgia celebrates Washington's Birthday, the Governor is accorded the right to designate when state holidays occur. In Georgia, Washington's Birthday is recognized the day after Christmas.
There is an urban legend that when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was implemented in 1971, President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation calling for a Presidents' Day on the third Monday to honor all U.S. presidents. Each February both the Law Library at the Library of Congress and the Nixon Library field an upsurge in calls on this question. No evidence of this exists in Nixon's official papers.
As of 2006, the federal government and many state and local governments still officially designate the holiday as Washington's Birthday. Many private employers and calendar makers refer to it as Presidents' Day.
Washington's Birthday is the designated holiday in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees.
Observance and traditions
In many American schools, the days leading up to the holiday often use Presidents' Day to educate students on the history of the Presidents of the United States, especially Washington and Lincoln.
Today the February holiday has become well-known for being a day in which many stores hold sales. Until the late 1980s, corporate businesses were universally closed on this day, the way they are on (for example) Memorial Day or Christmas Day. With the late 1980s advertising push to rename the holiday, more and more businesses are staying open on the holiday each year, and, as on Veterans Day and Columbus Day, most delivery services outside of the United States Postal Service|Post Office now offer regular service on the day as well. Some public transit systems have also gone to regular schedules on the day. Various theories exist for this, one accepted reason being to make up for the growing trend of corporations to close in observance of the Martin Luther King Day. However, when reviewing the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill debate of 1968 in the Congressional Record, one notes that supporters of the Bill were intent on moving federal holidays to Mondays to promote business. Over time, as with many federal holidays, few Americans actually celebrate Presidents' Day, and it is mainly known as a day off from work or school.
The federal holiday Washington's Birthday is intended to honor the accomplishments of the man who is known to his fellow citizens as "The Father of our Country". Celebrated for his patriotism, leadership, and statesmanship, the holiday also encourages the investigation of early colonial life, the importing of slavery from the Old World, and what it took to achieve a young country's independence in the midst of not all its citizens being free.
The holiday is also a tribute to the General who created the first military badge of merit for the common soldier. Revived on Washington's 200th birthday in 1932, the Purple Heart recognizes injuries received in battle. Like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Washington's Birthday weekend offers another opportunity to honor the country's veterans.
Community celebrations often display a lengthy heritage. Historic Alexandria, Virginia hosts a month-long tribute, including the longest running George Washington Birthday parade, while the community of Eustis, Florida, continues its annual "George Fest" celebration begun in 1902. At the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA, visitors are treated to birthday celebrations throughout the federal holiday weekend and through February 22.
In Arkansas, the third Monday in February is "George Washington's Birthday and Daisy Bates Day" an official state holiday.
In 2007, the country will celebrate both Washington's 275th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the rebirth of the Purple Heart medal.
Since 1862, there has been a tradition in the United States Senate that George Washington's Farewell Address be read on his birthday. Citizens asked that this be done in light of the approaching Civil War. The annual tradition continues with the reading of the address on or near Washington's Birthday. For many, the revisiting of Washington's Birthday is a strong reminder of the many contributions made by a great man to the early republic.
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