Presidents Day, also known as Washington’s Birthday, is a federal holiday in the U.S.
The official meaning of the holiday is to celebrate the life and achievements of the first President of the United States, George Washington. However, it has since expanded to honor Abraham Lincoln or, in some cases, all the presidents who have held office.
When is Presidents Day?
Presidents Day takes place on the third Monday in February. That means the actual date changes every year.
What can you learn about Presidents Day here?
- What’s the difference between Presidents Day and Washington’s Birthday?
- How is Presidents Day celebrated across the nation?
- Which states don’t celebrate Presidents Day at all?
- What are some useful teaching resources on the holiday to use with your class?
Presidents Day or Washington’s Birthday
Is Presidents Day the same as Washington’s Birthday?
The matter of Washington’s real birthday is a complicated one. When Washington was alive, an entirely different calendar was used: the Julian calendar. He was born on February 11, 1731, according to this calendar.
When Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, his birthday was moved a whole year (and a few days) to February 22, 1732.
So, which one is Washington’s actual birthday? Both!
However, the confusion doesn’t end there.
Presidents Day is not Washington’s real birthday because there isn’t a date for a holiday.
It takes place on the third Monday in February every year due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This permanently moved Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Labor Day to a Monday, giving people across the United States a well-deserved long weekend.
What president is Presidents Day for?
You would think that, given the original name of Washington’s Birthday, this holiday would involve celebrating the life of George Washington. And you’d be at least half-right! But instead, many people (and many states) view this as an official holiday to commemorate Washington’s achievements.
But – and there’s always a “but” – Washington isn’t the only president celebrated on Presidents Day. Some people across the nation use it to honor all presidents.
Some states have even included another president or significant figure in the event’s name. For example:
- Alabama recognizes George Washington/Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday.
- Arkansas celebrates George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day.
- Utah’s take on holiday is Washington and Lincoln Day.
Abraham Lincoln is a popular figure to include in Presidents Day celebrations. This is likely because his birthday is also in February!
Celebrating Presidents Day
What is Presidents Day celebrated for?
By celebrating Presidents Day or Washington’s Birthday, we are not just celebrating the life of George Washington but the foundations of the United States as we know it today.
It is linked to the American Revolution, in which Washington led an army as Commander in Chief to win America’s independence. We can also celebrate the Founding Fathers and the systems they put in place for the United States. The U.S. Constitution and all of its protections came about through the actions of George Washington and his colleagues.
And that’s just the start! If you view Presidents Day as an opportunity to celebrate all presidents, then the sky’s the limit. Forty-five people have served as President of the United States. That’s surely something to celebrate.
How can you celebrate Presidents Day?
Stuck for ideas of what to do on Presidents Day? Here are a few suggestions on what activities you can try out to mark the occasion:
- Create a Presidents Day pop quiz for children. How much do they remember about the life of George Washington?
- Set a research assignment on the life of someone who has been the President of the United States. Kids can get tons of practice using books and online resources.
- Host a class election to elect a classroom president for the day.
- Write a persuasive letter to the President about an issue close to your heart. This would be a fantastic group task!
- Learn about the presidential pets who have lived at the White House for years. Students can stick to classic cats and dogs like Socks and Buddy, or they can go wild and learn about Lincoln’s pair of goats, Nanny, and Nanko.
Which states do not celebrate Presidents Day?
There are some states which celebrate Presidents Day under a different name. For example, it might be called George Washington’s Day or George Washington’s Birthday.
Illinois, Maine, and South Carolina recognize Washington’s Birthday and Presidents Day as names for the holiday that takes place on the third Monday in February.
Others have their events on an entirely different day of the year.
The following states do not celebrate Presidents Day at all:
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
10 Fun Facts about Presidents Day
- The holiday is still officially called Washington’s Birthday by the federal government. That might contribute to the confusion over what to call it!
- Presidents Day (or President’s Day) in New Mexico is observed the day after Thanksgiving.
- Abraham Lincoln was also born in February. On February 12, Lincoln’s Birthday is a public holiday in some (but not all) states.
- Some people celebrated George Washington’s birthday in the 1700s while he was still alive. That’s how influential he was.
- There are multiple spellings of Presidents Day. For example, “President’s Day” could refer to the celebration of one president, while “Presidents’ Day” could refer to Washington and Lincoln. It’s all in the apostrophes!
- Other than Washington and Lincoln, two more presidents were born in February: William Harrison and Ronald Reagan.
- George Washington was the only president who the Electoral College unanimously elected.
- Washington’s Birthday was first celebrated as a federal holiday in the 1880s.
- When there was a proposal to change the name to Presidents Day (or Presidents’ Day), recognizing Abraham Lincoln as part of the celebrations, Congress rejected it.
- The popularity of the term Presidents Day picked up speed starting in the 1970s and 1980s. Stores and retailers would promote sales on the day to sell off old stock.