Today we celebrate an American Holiday, President’s Day.
Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents Day is now viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present.
Like Independence Day, Presidents Day is traditionally viewed as a time of patriotic celebration and remembrance. In its original incarnation as Washington’s Birthday, the holiday gained special meaning during the difficulties of the Great Depression, when portraits of George Washington often graced the front pages of newspapers and magazines every February 22.
In 1932, the date was used to reinstate the Purple Heart, a military decoration originally created by George Washington to honor soldiers killed or wounded while serving in the armed forces. Patriotic groups and the Boy Scouts of America also held celebrations on the day, and in 1938 some 5,000 people attended mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in honor of Washington.
In its modern form, Presidents Day is used by many patriotic and historical groups as a date for staging celebrations, reenactments and other events. A number of states also require that their public schools spend the days leading up to Presidents Day teaching students about the accomplishments of the presidents, often with a focus on the lives of Washington and Lincoln.