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What Is Presidents’ Day?

Mount Rushmore on clear blue day

Celebrated in the United States annually on the third Monday of February, Presidents’ Day is an American federal holiday that honors, appropriately, the 46 U.S. presidents throughout the country’s long history. To learn more about the day’s history and standards for celebration, check out our answers to five important questions about Presidents’ Day. Read on!

What is Presidents’ Day? 

Presidents’ Day is a holiday in the United States celebrated annually on the third Monday of February to recognize the lives and work of all U.S. presidents. The day is acknowledged in most states, and many citizens are given a day off from work or school.

Need ideas for what to do on your day off from school? Check out 10 of the best activities for kids to do on a snowy day.

What Was Presidents’ Day Originally Called?

Nationwide, Presidents’ Day was originally called Washington’s Birthday. That name was given because when it was initially celebrated in 1800, it recognized the birthday of George Washington, the country’s first president, on February 22 after he passed away in the previous year. Later in the 1800s, Washington’s Birthday would also be used to recognize Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was days earlier on February 12.

In the late 1960s, the Presidents’ Day name was popularized when Congress introduced the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which created a system where many federal holidays (like Memorial Day) would be on a Monday. This meant that Presidents’ Day wouldn’t be on George Washington’s actual birthday, but to this day, Washington’s Birthday is the official name of Presidents’ Day within the federal government.

When Did Presidents’ Day Become a National Holiday?

Washington’s Birthday was celebrated unofficially throughout the 1800s before becoming a federal holiday in 1879. For another six years, it was only recognized in Washington, D.C., before becoming a national holiday in 1885. As the holiday’s name shifted to Presidents’ Day, the Uniform Holiday Act was introduced in 1968 and put into effect in 1971, making it the Monday holiday that it is today.

What Are You Supposed to Celebrate on Presidents’ Day?

Presidents’ Day is used to celebrate the lives of all U.S. presidents. You can do this individually in a variety of ways, including:

  • Reading a book about your favorite president.
  • Watching a documentary or biopic about a president.
  • Visiting a presidential exhibit or monument.
  • Playing a presidential trivia game with family or friends.
  • Eating a president's favorite food or dessert. 

How Many States Don’t Recognize Presidents’ Day?

Believe it or not, there are currently nine states that don’t recognize the presidential federal holiday. In Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, there are no celebrations or a day off for residents. For those states, Presidents’ Day is just the same as any other day.

St. Patrick's Day is another holiday that's right around the corner. Here are seven fun facts about St. Patrick's Day! 

Five Presidents’ Day Fun Facts 

Celebrating Presidents’ Day should be fun and educational. To commemorate the day, here are a few fun facts to enjoy and share:

  • The federal government considered officially renaming the holiday to Presidents’ Day from Washington’s Birthday, but the proposal failed in committees.
  • Certain states give Presidents’ Day their own unique names, including Lincoln Day in Illinois, Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day in Arkansas, and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson Day in Alabama.
  • Since the Uniform Holiday Act was put into effect in 1971, the holiday hasn’t actually taken place on George Washington’s birthday, February 22. Instead, it has rotated between February 15 and February 21.
  • Visiting Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota, is a popular Presidents’ Day pastime. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are immortalized in the monument. Mount Rushmore’s name is a reference to attorney Charles E. Rushmore, who suggested that the mountainside, which at that time was nameless and faceless, be given a name.
  • Retailers played a big part in promoting the Presidents’ Day name, as they pushed the phrasing to promote their deals and sales for the occasion.

people waving American flags on presidents' day

Presidents’ Day and Patriotic Etiquette

Now you’re fully prepped for Presidents’ Day, but there are many more patriotic holidays on the horizon. For the Fourth of July, displaying and flying an American flag is the perfect way to celebrate freedom, but the iconic symbol needs to be properly cared for. Follow our “American Flag Etiquette for the 4th of July” to learn all the right ways to display, fly, fold, and dispose of the U.S. flag not just on Independence Day, but for years and years to come.