Let’s be honest about how we celebrate Presidents’ Day on the third Monday in February. Most of us enjoy taking off over the long weekend, grateful for another federal holiday. We don’t really give much thought to the origins of the celebration or the gentlemen it honors.
That is not entirely our fault. In 1885, Congress declared February 12, George Washington’s birthday, as one of the original four federal holidays. Our highly respected first president had been held in reverence since his death in 1799. That seems fitting for the only POTUS in U.S. history who was elected unanimously.
Our 1968 Congress had a better idea. They called it the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill. The proposal would organize commemorative dates scattered across the calendar into a new set of federal holidays. Each one, including our first president’s birthday, would fall on a Monday.
The bill passed in 1971. Washington’s official day was moved to its present location on our calendars and renamed Presidents’ Day. Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day were also moved to Mondays, but they all kept their original titles. We should note Veterans Day regained stand-alone-status seven years later.
It all managed to win the approval of both labor unions and national retailers. Uniting these two powerhouses doesn’t happen often, but the 1971 bill worked out well for both parties. Hard-working Americans now had a series of three-day weekends. Merchants had multiple opportunities to wrap holidays around sales strategies.
This year, let’s think differently about an observance we tend to take for granted. No one has to give up the pleasure of enjoying that extra day off. We don’t need to ignore the siren songs of super sales and money-saving deals.
Instead, let’s learn something about the individuals we honor on the third Monday of February. Every man who has held the job has a remarkable backstory. Some are inspiring, many are surprising, and a few are puzzling. The women destined to serve in this unique position will be just as interesting.
Once you have performed this small civic duty, play it forward. Turn Presidents’ Day into a teaching opportunity. Pass along what you learn, good or bad, to someone else. If you can share with a child, that’s even better. You never know. That curious, bright-eyed kid could be the next President of the United States.