This Monday, take a few moments to think about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

We used to observe individual dates devoted to these two famous presidents who remain among the most elated to hold the office. And before their birthday, school students often spent time learning about their accomplishments.

Now we have Presidents Day, best known as a national day of great deals on cars, mattresses, appliances, TVs and more.

“It’s become more of a shopping day and a break from the calendar. Are we supposed to honor all the presidents on this day? If so, how do we do that?” said Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian and professor at Rice University in Houston. “If it was Presidents Day in every school across the country and (teachers and students) really looked at the executive, there might be something useful, but as it is now, there This is more of a workers’ day than a day of intellectual reflection.”

Even our calendars are confused. Microsoft Outlook lists Lincoln’s birthday (February 12), but not Washington’s birthday (February 22) or Presidents’ Day (February 21). Google Calendar only lists Presidents Day.

2022 Presidents Day Sales: They are officially here. Shop at Home Depot, Best Buy and Lowe’s

Presidents Day: How did we get here?

In January 1879, George Washington’s birthday became the fifth federal holiday created by Congress, giving federal workers in the District of Columbia a day off with pay, according to a Congressional Research Service report updated in July 2021. A decade earlier, Congress had established New Years Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day as federal holidays.

Washington’s birthday was first celebrated on Feb. 22, 1880, and five years later federal workers in all 38 states had the party too, according to the National Archives. And it was also the first federal holiday to honor a single person’s date of birth; the second, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was enacted in 1982.

After Lincoln’s death in 1865, some sought to make his birthday (February 12, 1809) a holiday as well. That effort failed, but several states continue to observe Lincoln’s birthday as a paid holiday, according to the National Constitution Center. And some schools across the United States still have days off for presidents’ birthdays.

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How did George Washington’s birthday become Presidents’ Day?

In June 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Washington’s birthday celebration on the third Monday in February—Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day were also moved to Monday— a move that resulted in more than a three-day vacation. for federal employees. It also resulted in Washington’s birthday never being celebrated on his actual birthday, since the law went into effect in 1971, the Mount Vernon website notes.

As part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Illinois Senator Robert McClory suggested renaming the holiday Presidents Day, to also celebrate Lincoln’s birthday, according to

This suggestion has been removed from the proposal. But advertisers have clung to Presidents Day as another date for sales and promotions, inflicting dozens of fake Georges and Abes in their ads.

Even though federal employees have the day as a holiday, the law hasn’t officially changed the third Monday in February to Presidents Day, so it remains Washington’s birthday. For example, the National Weather Service and the Federal Reserve System continue to call Washington’s birthday.

In 2007, Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York suggested that Susan B. Anthony be added to those celebrated on the third Monday in February, but this measure was not acted upon.

Incidentally, the Mount Vernon website suggests readers contact their congressional representatives and have them bring back Washington’s birthday in full.

Brinkley would prefer Presidents Day to be associated with a name. “Once Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a national holiday, it became a day of intense reflection on our great civil rights icon,” he said.

Lincoln deserves a bigger date because of his leading the country through the Civil War and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Brinkley said. “In a multicultural America, focusing on Lincoln is probably more fruitful than seeing if people can name presidents in order,” he said.

Contributor: Ashley May and Adrianna Rodriguez

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.