The third Monday in February is designated in the US as George Washington’s Birthday, commonly known as Presidents Day. Here’s a look at the facts and traditions surrounding the this national celebration:
Not Officially Presidents Day
The federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February is not officially called Presidents Day. Instead, it is Washington’s Birthday. There was an attempt in 1968 to officially name it Presidents Day. However, this suggestion died in committee. Many states, however, choose to call their own celebration on this day “Presidents Day.”
Washington’s Birthday Celebrated During Washington’s Lifetime
Many across the newly formed United States celebrated Washington’s Birthday in the 17th century while George Washington was still alive. However, it wasn’t until 1885 that Chester Arthur signed the bill that made it a federal holiday.
Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday is Not a Federal Holiday
Even though many states celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday concurrently with Washington’s, it is not a federally designated holiday.
Cherries, Cherries, and More Cherries
Traditionally, many celebrated and continue to celebrate Washington’s Birthday with desserts made with cherries. Cherry pie, cherry cake, bread made with cherries, or just a huge bowl of cherries are often enjoyed on this day. Of course, this relates to the anecdote that Washington “would not tell a lie” when asked if he cut down a cherry tree.
Shopping and Sales
One thing that many people connect with Presidents Day is retail sales. In the 1980s, retailers began to use this holiday as a time to clear out their old stock in preparation for spring and summer. One can’t help but wonder what George Washington would have thought about this celebration of his birthday!
Reading of Washington’s Farewell Address
On February 22nd of almost every year since 1888, Washington’s ‘Farewell Address’ has been read in the US Senate. While this does not happen on Presidents Day, it is an annual celebration of Washington’s Birthday that stems from 1862 when the address was read as a way to boost morale during the Civil War. This address was, and is, so important because it warns of political factionalism, geographical sectionalism, and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s affairs. Washington stressed the importance of national unity over sectional differences… now that sounds like a true sentiment to celebrate!