What Is Presidents’ Day?

If you live in the United States, you might have a Monday in February off (unless you work retail). That special Monday is Presidents’ Day! But, you might be interested to know that the Presidents’ Day holiday isn’t the official name of the holiday at all, and some states customize the day, too.

When was the first Presidents’ Day?

The day was originally established in 1885 to honor the birthday of our first president, George Washington, who was born in 1732 and died in 1799. In fact, the holiday itself is still officially known by the federal government as “Washington’s Birthday.” President Rutherford B. Hayes signed a bill into law in 1879 making George’s birthday a holiday, but it was originally just for the District of Columbia. The rest of the country was added in 1885.

The term Presidents’ Day became a thing in 1971 due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which was an attempt to create more three-day weekends for workers. This also had the effect of moving the date from February 22 to the third Monday in February, and it also folded in President Abraham Lincoln’s February 12th birthday.

Why is the president called the president?

Have you ever wondered why the president is referred to as . . . the president? In 1789 or so, other terms like Highness, Electoral Highness, Excellency, and Majesty were tossed around as potential titles for the top job. Vice President John Adams liked that last one, though Thomas Jefferson reportedly said that it was “the most superlatively ridiculous thing I ever heard of,” and Benjamin Franklin considered those types of titles to be “absolutely mad.” Drama.

Looking for a challenge? Take our Presidents’ Day quiz!

How do states customize the holiday?

The focus on Presidents’ Day centers around our two most well-known presidents, Washington and Lincoln, but History Channel notes that it’s really morphed into a patriotic day that celebrates the achievements of all our leaders. They add that “some states have even chosen to customize the holiday by adding new figures to the celebration. Arkansas, for instance, celebrates Washington as well as civil rights activist Daisy Gatson Bates. Alabama, meanwhile, uses Presidents’ Day to commemorate Washington and Thomas Jefferson (who was born in April).”

The holiday also gives car dealers an excuse to have weekend-holiday sales, because apparently nothing says “Presidents’ Day” like a brand new Toyota/Ford/Honda/Volvo/etc.

Do we use the apostrophe or not?

When you do a search for Presidents’ Day online, you’ll notice that it’s rendered different ways. And, there is a reason for that. Because the official name of the holiday is Washington’s Birthday (like we mentioned above), there is variation in how it is spelled. When you are celebrating more than one individual though, the correct form would be Presidents’ Day.

However, recently the popularity of the form “Presidents Day” has increased—this is the style favored by the Associated Press Stylebook and followed by most newspapers and magazines. “President’s Day” as an alternate rendering of “Washington’s Birthday,” or for the purpose of commemorating the presidency as an institution, is a proper use of a possessive and is the legal spelling in eight states.

Want to learn more about some of our presidents who commanded their speeches (in good ways and bad)? Take a look at these Chiefs of Presidential Speech.

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