When I was a child, growing up on Long island, in New York State, I seem to recall we had separate observances of Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday, but that, at some point, these “holidays” were combined into a single holiday, Presidents’ Day, honoring both men. This recollection is partly right (New York state is one of only seven states that observe Lincoln’s Birthday as a legal holiday; Connecticut, where I reside now, is another), as this corresponds with the fact that it was in 1971 (Per Wikipedia, “Washington’s Birthday”), when I was six, that the federal holiday honoring Washington was changed from February 22 (his actual birthday, per the Gregorian calendar, as per Wikipedia.org) to the third Monday in February (which never falls after February 21, per Wikipedia) by the Uniform Monday Hoiiday Act.
For several reasons, I thought it might be both interesting and informative to explore and discuss the distinctions among these three holidays. First, it seems to me there is a lot of confusion, among many people, about what the differences are. Secondly, these observances have evolved over time. Third, the observance, or lack thereof, of the above holidays, varies among the 50 U.S. states. And perhaps most importantly, the combining of the days, by some states, in conjunction with changing the official date when Washington’s birthday is observed, seems to have diminished the importance of both days.
For example, an article entitled “’Presidents Day’” The Truth Behind the Holiday: George Washington, the Man and Myth, Washington’s Birthday or Presidents Day” (www.mount Vernon.org), laments that the law which moved the observance of Washington’s Birthday (more about that later) from February 22, his actual birthday, to the third Monday of February, caused us to partially lose “the value and identity of the importance of his [Washington’s] birthday.”
There are several differences among the above observances. First, Washington’s birthday (“’President’s Day’ The Truth Behind the Holiday), first became a federal holiday on January 31, 1879 whereas Lincoln’s Birthday was never a federal holiday (Wikipedia: “Lincoln’s Birthday). Lincoln’s birthday is only observed as a separate legal holiday in seven states: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, and New York (Wikipedia.org).
Secondly, according to Constitution Daily (“How Abraham Lincoln lost his birthday holiday,” by Scott Bomboy, February 12, 2013,constitutioncenter.org) , four states, Connecticut , Illinois, Missouri , and New York observe Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, Lincoln’s actual birthday, regardless of the day of the week on which this date falls. But Indiana and New Mexico commemorate Lincoln’s birthday on the day after Thanksgiving.
Regarding confusion among the various Presidential holidays above, a major contributing factor would be the various naming conventions used by states that honor both Washington and Lincoln’s birthday and the fact that the federal holiday of President’s Day (note the apostrophe after the “t”) only “commemorates George Washington’s observed birthday: There is no national holiday called Presidents Day (Bomboy, 2013).” Examples of states that honor BOTH Washington and Lincoln together are Montana, which observes “Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthday,” Colorado and Ohio, which observe Washington-Lincoln-Day, and Minnesota, which observes “Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthday.”
As if the above naming conventions weren’t confusing enough, many states have an official state holiday, which honors Washington, but is called President’s Day in some (such as Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, and Massachusetts, to name a few), Presidents’ Day (in such states as Hawaii, New Mexico, and North Dakota), and plain old Presidents Day (no apostrophe), in Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon (“Washington’s Birthday” , Wikipedia.org).
So what is the difference among the states using the word President in the holiday? There may not be, according to history.com, which states that, while Washington and Lincoln continue to be America’s two best known presidents, Presidents’ Day [as spelled by history.com] is widely considered to be a day to honor the “lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives.” History.com goes on to say, however, that some lawmakers have disapproved of this practice, contending that “grouping” all the presidents together detracts from the legacies of such luminaries as Washington and Lincoln.
And so back to what this writer considers the most important question: Does honoring all the U.S. presidents detract from the legacies of Washington, one of the founding fathers who created our union,and Lincoln who was responsible for preserving our union? The above described confusion, created by the different practices and naming conventions for President’s Day (the federal version) among the various states, as described above, probably is one factor minimizing the importance of Washington and Lincoln.
It was probably the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, however, which has detracted the most from the legacies of Washington and Lincoln. This law, which took effect as the result of an executive order from President Nixon changed the observance of the federal holiday of Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday of February. As we now know, this was done in part to create a convenient three day holiday for our workers and, per history.com, was supported by “labor unions as a surefire way to bolster retail sales.”
While I, too, appreciate having a long weekend, I can’t help thinking President’s Day might be a great time to read up on Washington or Lincoln and to teach our kids about these great leaders. This could help restore meaning to the holiday and still leave time to catch a great sale