Presidents Day, aka Washington’s Birthday (and Lincoln’s too!)

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2014: “Washington’s Birthday,” a federal holiday popularly known as Presidents Day (punctuation of the day’s name varies).

FEBRUARY 12: Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1809.

FEBRUARY 22: George Washington’s birthday in 1732.

Once upon a time, Americans marked the birthdays of two of our most beloved presidents each February. During the Christmas season, families who watch the 1942 musical Holiday Inn (the first film in which Bing Crosby sang White Christmas) know that Bing’s Vermont-based inn hosted separate celebrations for each presidential birthday. Through the 1950s and 1960s, millions of American school children cut up construction paper and made faces of both presidents on two different days.

Today, American culture tends to smoosh both men (and sometimes even more presidents) into something called “Presidents Day,” but that isn’t the name of the federal holiday that falls on February 17 this year. That’s still officially called “Washington’s Birthday”—even though the current version of Washington’s Birthday never seems to fall on his actual birth date. If this sounds like a classic example of D.C. bureaucracy … well … consider …

Our first president’s birthday was declared a holiday by the U.S. Congress in 1879. Nearly a century later, in 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act began moving the first president’s birthday around the calendar to ensure that, each year, workers would get a three-day weekend.

To make matters more confusing, Lincoln’s Birthday is an official February 12 holiday in a handful of U.S. states ranging from California to Connecticut and, of course, including Illinois. Given the deep regional divisions following the Civil War, the entire nation wasn’t likely to celebrate the 16th president’s birthday. Currently, Arizona, Missouri and West Virginia are about as far South as Lincoln’s statewide birthday celebrations extend.

For Lincoln’s birthday in 2014, Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer takes an inspiring look at what Abraham Lincoln would say about American values, today. What values? Newcomer uses the 10 core values documented in a new book by University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker and compares that list of 10 with Lincoln’s life and legacy. (Because this is a sesquicentennial era of the Civil War, ReadTheSpirit has many Lincoln-related resources.)

Take your pick—and, students, follow your teachers’ instructions. Some gurus of the English language still insist that the popular holiday should be spelled Presidents’ Day with an apostrophe. But, the widely used Associated Press Stylebook says: No apostrophe is needed.


FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis offers a creative—and oh so yummy—solution to celebrating both presidents! She’s got a recipe for a Cherry and Apple Pie (plus a story about her own holiday memories and how they affected her appearance on the Jeopardy! game show).


Each year, as government offices, banks and other organizations close down for the holiday—retailers do their best to rack up mid-winter sales. Beyond department stores and shopping centers, General Motors is running a Presidents Day sale through the end of February, aimed especially at moving full-sized pickup trucks at Chevrolet and Buick-GMC dealers. Check Sunday newspapers on February 16 for a load of advertisements!

Clearly our 30th president (Cal Coolidge) was onto something, when he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1925: “The chief business of the American people is business.”

Every year, ideas surface for expanding the observance. The Buffalo News, this year, argues that residents in that part of New York state should honor two often-forgotten presidents: Millard Filmore (No. 13) and Grover Cleveland (No. 24), the two men who made it from Buffalo all the way to the White House. No word yet on whether that particular observance will go viral in western New York.

Public schools usually close on Presidents Day, but this year a growing number of school districts in the northern states are planning to stay open to make up for the extra “snow days” these districts already have taken in this especially bitter winter season.

Here’s a treat for your family … The National Park Service has announced: “All 401 national parks will provide free admission to everyone February 15-17 to honor our nation’s leaders and their accomplishments. Visit one of the scores of national parks with a direct connection to a president, including birthplaces, homes, monuments, memorials, and historic sites. … Check the calendar of events to find special activities taking place in national parks across the country.”

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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  1. Duncan Newcomer says

    Great construction paper art work.I can taste the paste! But who ever heard of Grover Fillmore and Millard Cleveland anyway?!
    Buffalo? What about Albany? But then,as I say,seems like a foggy history to me.

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