Five Facts on Presidents Day

Five Facts on Presidents Day

Monday marks Presidents Day. From its origins honoring George Washington to its modern interpretation as a day to reflect on the legacy of all U.S. Presidents, here are Five Facts about Presidents Day.

  1. Presidents Day was first celebrated as a federal holiday in 1879.

The federal holiday honoring George Washington was officially established in 1879 for government offices in Washington, D.C., and later expanded to include all federal offices in 1885. This made Washington's Birthday the first federal holiday to honor an individual's birth date. The holiday recognized Washington's birthday under the Gregorian calendar on February 22.

2. Since 1968, Presidents Day has always been celebrated on the third Monday in February.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed by Congress in 1968 moved the celebration of Washington's Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. This change was part of a broader move to provide more three-day weekends to the American workforce, placing the holiday between February 15 and 21, which ironically means it never falls on Washington's actual birthday, February 22.

3. There is disagreement on the actual name of the holiday and who exactly is being honored.

While the federal government officially recognizes the holiday as "Washington's Birthday," widespread use of "Presidents Day" by advertisers and the public has led to a general understanding that the day honors all U.S. Presidents. Some states have adopted this broader interpretation in their official observances. The variation in names and who is being honored reflects the holiday's evolution from a celebration of Washington's birthday to a day honoring the presidency at large.

4. Other countries celebrating a Presidents Day include Equatorial Guinea and Botswana.

Equatorial Guinea’s holiday coincides with the birthday of its long-incumbent dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, while Botswana’s holiday, established in 2006, is dedicated to the institution of the presidency itself. Meanwhile, some countries have similar holidays honoring specific national leaders, such as India’s celebration of Mahatma Gandhi.

5. In a 2012 poll, 35 percent of Americans said they’d prefer to get rid of Presidents Day as opposed to other federal holidays.

While the presidency has traditionally been considered a symbol of America as a nation, the increasing levels of partisanship and polarization have made the White House more of a target of Americans’ ire on a day-to-day basis, and no president has cracked an approval rating above 60 percent since 2009. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that a sizable minority of Americans would be in favor of eliminating Presidents’ Day.