It’s Presidents’ Day on most calendars, though the official U.S. holiday is “Washington’s Birthday.”
Presidents’ Day, or Washington’s Birthday, is celebrated on the third Monday in February. In 2016 this will overlap the period of mourning for Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. President Barack Obama ordered flags to be flown half staff to honor Justice Scalia; if your flag pole allows, you should fly your flag at half staff, even on Washington’s Birthday.
You’re already flying your flag today, right? Let’s recapitulate from last year.
Dr. Bumsted reminds us we need to emphasize that the federal holiday is Washington’s Birthday, not a day to honor presidents generically. See the explanation from the U.S. National Archives.
Presidents Day is February 15, 2016 — fly your U.S. flag today.
The Lincoln Memorial, seen through flags posted at the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.; National Park Service Photo via About.com
Oddly enough, some controversy arises from time to time over how to honor President Washington and President Lincoln, and other presidents. Sometimes the controversy simmers over how to honor great Americans — if Lincoln deserves a day, why not FDR? Why not Jefferson? — and sometimes the controversy covers more mundane ground — should the federal government give workers a day off? Should it be on a Monday or Friday to create a three-day weekend to boost tourism? About.com explains the history of the controversy:
Presidents’ Day is intended (for some) to honor all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. According to the Gregorian or “New Style” calendar that is most commonly used today, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But according to the Julian or “Old Style” calendar that was used in England until 1752, his birth date was February 11th. Back in the 1790s, Americans were split – some celebrated his birthday on February 11th and some on February 22nd.
When Abraham Lincoln became president and helped reshape our country, it was believed he, too, should have a special day of recognition. Tricky thing was that Lincoln’s birthday fell on February 12th. Prior to 1968, having two presidential birthdays so close together didn’t seem to bother anyone. February 22nd was observed as a federal public holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington and February 12th was observed as a public holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
In 1968, things changed when the 90th Congress was determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. They voted to shift three existing holidays (including Washington’s Birthday) to Mondays. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington’s Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. But not all Americans were happy with the new law. There was some concern that Washington’s identity would be lost since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday. There was also an attempt to rename the public holiday “Presidents’ Day”, but the idea didn’t go anywhere since some believed not all presidents deserved a special recognition. [Take THAT you Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore fans!]
Even though Congress had created a uniform federal holiday law, there was not a uniform holiday title agreement among the individual states. Some states, like California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas chose not to retain the federal holiday title and renamed their state holiday “President’s Day.” From that point forward, the term “Presidents’ Day” became a marketing phenomenon, as advertisers sought to capitalize on the opportunity for three-day or week-long sales.
In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978) to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington’s Birthday be “officially” called by that name once again. Both bills died in committees.
Today, President’s Day is well accepted and celebrated. Some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington and Lincoln, and many parks actually stage reenactments and pageants in their honor. The National Park Service also features a number of historic sites and memorials to honor the lives of these two presidents, as well as other important leaders.
Fly your flag, read some history, enjoy the day.
More, Resources, and Related Articles:
- Max Lyons has a great photo of flags at the Washington Monument — but he’s stingy on copyright; go see the photo, maybe buy one
- Enchanted Learning’s classroom activities for Presidents Day
- More history of Presidents Day at SanDiego.com (is that a site of the San Diego Union?)
- Sacramento Bee attempts to make sense of Presidents Day — or is it Washington’s Birthday?
- Geek humor for Presidents Day
- Presidents Day is celebrated throughout the United States (examiner.com)
- The Meaning of Presidents Day (nbcnewyork.com)
- What Is The Real Name of the February Holiday? (usingtherightwords.wordpress.com)
- US Celebrates Presidents’ Day (voanews.com)
- Uncle Sam says it’s not Presidents Day (news.blogs.cnn.com)
- The Learning Network Blog: Happy Presidents’ Day (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Next flag fly dates, for March:
- March 1, Ohio statehood (1803, 17th state)
- March 1, Nebraska statehood (1867, 37th state)
- March 3, Florida (1845, 27th state)
- March 4, Vermont statehood (1791, 14th state)
- March 15, Maine statehood (1820, 23rd state)
President’s airplane, Air Force 1, flying over Mount Rushmore National Monument, in South Dakota – Image via Wikipedia; notice, contrary to Tea Party fears, the bust of Obama is not yet up on Rushmore (and also note there remains no room for another bust).
Yes, this is mostly an encore post. This event occurs every year.