American Holidays: Presidents' Day

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11628

What if every president had his or her own holiday? Do they all deserve a holiday? Two presidents had their holidays, but they kind of got lost. Find out the political history behind Presidents' Day!


Social Studies

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start
  • Do you know what the official title is for Presidents' Day?

(It's not really Presidents' Day!)

girl thinking

Each year on the third Monday in February, Americans recognize Presidents' Day.

Interestingly, the holiday is not officially called Presidents' Day, and the date when it is celebrated has shifted over the years. Some might even say Presidents' Day looks nothing like it was intended to be when it was first made a federal holiday in 1879.

At first, it was a holiday to celebrate the birthday of George Washington.

George Washington

  • How did it become Presidents' Day?
  • Or did it ever become Presidents' Day?

Watch the video below to learn more about this confusing holiday!

Image - Video

In 1879, President Hayes signed a law making Washington's Birthday a national holiday.

birthday cake

This is important because, at the time, the only other federal holidays were: Christmas, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day.

It would be more than 100 years before another individual would be recognized with a national holiday!

In 1983, President Reagan signed a law that created a holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. (Learn about that holiday in the right-hand sidebar bar!)

For nearly 100 years, the country celebrated Washington's Birthday on February 22. The holiday began to change in 1968 when President Nixon signed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act into law.

The goal of the law was to move many federal holidays to specific Mondays in an effort to create more three-day weekends. Washington's Birthday was one of the holidays moved to a permanent Monday under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

The act also sought to change the name of the holiday to Presidents' Day to honor all presidents, especially since Abraham Lincoln's birthday was only a few weeks after Washington's.

But this part of the act was not well-received and was removed from the bill before the act was passed. So, there is no official Presidents' Day!

The move to the third Monday in February caused many to begin calling the date Presidents' Day even though the title of the holiday remained Washington's Birthday.

The date shift put the holiday between Washington and Lincoln's birthdays, and many assumed the date change was meant to include both famous presidents.

Presidents' Day

Today, Presidents' Day has become a commercialized holiday. Many stores use the holiday as a reason for hosting sales.

Some places of business and school districts allow workers and students the day off. Students who do go to school often spend the day learning about American presidents, particularly Washington and Lincoln.

school student

Now, you have learned about the history of Presidents' Day.

  • Will you go on calling the holiday Presidents' Day, or will you begin calling it by its official name, Washington's Birthday?

Move on to the Got It? section to continue learning about this patriotic holiday.

Image - Button Next