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What Is President’s Day?

Obama, With Former Presidents Bush And Clinton, Speaks On Haiti
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

The original version of Presidents’ Day was held on February 22nd in commemoration of George Washington‘s birthday in 1796, the last full year of his presidency.  Its traditions included commemorative speeches given by prominent public figures, as well as celebrations in various regions throughout the U-S.  Born on February 12th, the first formal observance of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday took place in 1866, the year after his assassination, when both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address in his honor.  While Lincoln’s Birthday did not become a federal holiday like George Washington’s, it did become a legal holiday in several states.  In 1968, legislation was enacted that affected several federal holidays.  One of these was Washington’s Birthday, the observation of which was shifted to the third Monday in February each year whether or not it fell on the 22nd.  This act, which took effect in 1971, was designed to simplify the yearly calendar of holidays and give federal employees some standard three-day weekends in the process.  While the holiday is still officially known as Washington’s Birthday, it has become popularly known as Presidents’ Day, a time for honoring Washington and Lincoln, as well as all the other men who have served as president.

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