Tomorrow, Feb. 18, when Americans take the day off to observe annual Presidents’ Day, few will probably know what they’re celebrating.
Officially, the federal government recognizes Monday as Washington’s Birthday. Washington’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1879 when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. As the first federal holiday to celebrate the life of an American citizen, the day was originally marked with as much fanfare as the Fourth of July.
Nowadays, however, Presidents' Day seems to excite more passion for car deals and sales at the mall than patriotism.
Washington’s actual birthday was Feb. 22, 1732. The legal holiday called Washington’s Birthday initially only applied to federal employees of the District of Columbia. According to the National Archives, the government never stipulated as to whether or not employees would be paid for the holiday, and many were not.
In 1885, Washington's Birthday was expanded to include workers in all federal offices across the country. At the time there were only four other nationally-recognized federal bank holidays: Christmas Day, New Years’ Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was created in the late 1960s by Congress to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays” with the aim of increasing the number of three-day weekends available to federal employees. In 1971, Washington’s Birthday was shifted to the third Monday in February as part of the act.
Other holidays that were shifted from fixed dates to designated Mondays were Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day.
The 130th anniversary of Washington’s birth, which fell during the darkest days of the Civil War, sparked citizens of Philadelphia, the House and the Senate to commemorate the occasion by reading aloud Washington's Farewell Address. The morale-booster is still a tradition being observed in the Senate today.
‘No Senate tradition has been more steadfastly maintained than the annual reading of President George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address.’
Each year the Senate selects one of its members, taking care to alternate parties, to read the Washington's address aloud to the chamber. The statement contains 7,641 words and generally takes 45 minutes to deliver.
Click here to read a full text of President Washington’s Farewell Address
Presidents' Day Celebrations going on in and around Washington, D.C.
Join thousands of others at the country’s largest Presidents’ Day Parade in Old Town Alexandria on Feb. 18, 1-3 p.m. There are festivities all month to celebrate the 281st anniversary of George Washington’s birth in his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia.
Or visit Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens which marks Washington’s Birthday with three days of special events at his 500-acre estate.