Presidents Day is approaching, and as it always does, falls on the third Monday of the month, which in 2016 will be on Feb. 15. In addition to providing a three-day weekend for weary workers and students, the holiday has an interesting, if murky, history.
The mere mention of the name Presidents Day is likely to cause slight confusion for the average American citizen. Who exactly are we celebrating? President Barack Obama? Former president George W. Bush? All past presidents? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding “it depends.” For unlike other holidays, Presidents Day can be interpreted in many ways, and has different meanings to different people.
Despite its all-inclusive name, Presidents Day was originally known as Washington’s birthday, and this is still its official name according to the United States government. At its inception as a federal holiday in 1885, the day was meant to honor former president George Washington, the country’s first and most famous chief of staff. After the beloved father of the nation died in 1799, his Feb. 22 birthday became an instant, although unofficial day of remembrance. The reverence in which Washington was held by the American people is reflected in the country’s celebration of his 100th birthday in 1832, as well as the erecting of the Washington Monument later in that century.
Presidents Day has gradually become a day to honor all past chiefs of staff, regardless of their historical stature or merit. It is also celebrated in many different ways depending on which part of the country you are in. Certain states honor both Washington and former president Abraham Lincoln, while other states exclude Lincoln and choose instead to honor former president Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Alabama calls the holiday “Washington and Jefferson Day.” As might be expected, Washington’s home state of Virginia calls the holiday “George Washington’s Day.”
No matter which way you choose to celebrate Presidents Day, or which presidents you choose to honor, it is a day in which we can take a minute to appreciate our former presidents for the service they gave to our country.