What Is Presidents' Day? The History Behind the Three-Day Weekend

The holiday originally only celebrated one president.

If Presidents' Day makes you think of three-day weekends and big online sales, you're not alone. For the last 20 or more years, I've had the third Monday of February off from school or work, but never really stopped to think about why we celebrate this federal holiday. Because of the name, I always assumed it was a day honoring the current President—but that's actually not the case.

Presidents' Day was originally created to honor George Washington, the United States' very first president. But in the hundreds of years since, the holiday has become more about celebrating America's workforce and its impact on the country's progress.

As we head into the long weekend, take a few minutes to learn the history behind the holiday.

george hw bush, barack obama, george w bush, bill clinton, jimmy carter
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

When Is Presidents' Day?

Presidents' Day is always celebrated on the third Monday of February in honor of the day George Washington was born (which is February 22, 1732). This year Presidents' Day is on Monday, February 21, 2022.

The History of Presidents' Day

Presidents' Day was established in February of 1885 as a way to honor George Washington for his contributions to the country. It was an unofficial holiday observed by most states until 1971, when the United States passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, a bill that established a group of federal holidays that would all fall on Mondays. This was done to create more three-day weekends for the American workforce.

Rather than make February 22 (Washington's birthday) a national holiday regardless of what day of the week it fell on, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act declared that the holiday would always be observed on the third Monday in February.

While the February holiday originally only celebrated George Washington, it officially became known as Presidents' Day in 1971, partially because many states already called it that, and partially because Abraham Lincoln's birthday was also in the month of February.

Interestingly, there have been four presidents with February birthdays (George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan), but Presidents' Day has never fallen on a single one of their birthdays. So, as you shop the sales (or sleep in!) on this Presidents' Day, know that you have the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to thank for your long weekend.

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