President George Washington, long ago dubbed the Father of our Country, was our first elected president after claiming independence. He died in 1799, and his birthday, February 22nd, became a day of remembrance in appreciation of the sacrifices he made to establish our nation.
Washington was revered by the citizens of this country and, while his birthday marked a day of remembrance and appreciation, it was not an official holiday. It was an unofficial day of observance and celebration of his life.
It stayed that way until the 1870s when Washington’s birthday became a federal holiday that applied only to Washington DC. It wasn’t until 1885 that his birthday became a federal national holiday. At that time, there were only four federal holidays, and Washington’s was the first to celebrate a single individual. (Later, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was noted on calendars also, but his was a State holiday.)
In the 1960s, the sole celebration of Washington expanded to Presidents’ Day to celebrate the contributions of all presidents. And so in 1968, much of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed, and by executive order in 1971, along with several other holidays, Washington’s birthday celebration shifted to Monday. The third Monday in February. No longer do we dedicate the day to the Father of our Country, but celebrate Presidents’ Day, collectively acknowledging all presidents.
Let us today remember our heritage and the root reason for the celebration and today’s federal holiday. Let us recall all who sacrificed to make our nation strong and independent. And let us express our gratitude to them. For it is on their shoulders we stand as a free people today.