United States

Presidents Day 2024: From Washington's Birthday to Nationwide Celebration – History, Observance And What's Open/Closed On The Federal Holiday

Presidents Day, initially commemorating George Washington's birthday, has evolved into a nationwide celebration honoring all U.S. presidents. This federal holiday, observed on the third Monday of February, reflects America's historical reverence for its leaders and often coincides with sales across various industries.

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Mount Rushmore, which honors four U.S. presidents (left to right)- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Photo: Getty Images
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When it first came into existence, Presidents Day solely honored George Washington, the nation's first president, before evolving into a celebration encompassing all 46 past and present chief executives and becoming a federal holiday.

How has the observance expanded from its origins as a commemoration of George Washington's birthday to include all presidents? What is the reason behind the abundance of advertisements for car and furniture sales on television during this time?

Here's what you need to know about Presidents Day and its history.

When is Presidents Day 2024?

Presidents Day in 2024 falls on Monday, February 19th.

This date is consistent with the holiday's observance on the third Monday of February each year, established by the Uniform Holiday Bill signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. This legislation aimed to ensure that holidays like Memorial Day, Presidents Day, and Veterans Day would always be observed on Mondays, providing extended weekends and avoiding disruptions during the workweek, as per Britannica.

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Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day were also designated to be celebrated on Mondays when initially established. Conversely, Veterans Day was restored to its original date of November 11th in 1978, and it has since been observed on that specific day.

What does the Presidents Day commemorate?

Presidents Day commemorates the birthday of the United States' first president, George Washington. Initially established in 1879 for this purpose, the holiday was originally known as "Washington's Birthday," a term still used by the federal government, according to the Department of State.

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Washington's Birthday Photo: Getty Images
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After the death of George Washington in 1799, February 22, which was widely believed to be his date of birth, became an annual day of remembrance, as noted by History.com. This day continued as an informal observance throughout much of the 19th century until Senator Stephen Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas introduced a proposal for it to become a federal holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed this proposal into law, as detailed by History.com.

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Initially acknowledged solely in Washington D.C., Washington's Birthday was established as a nationwide holiday in 1885. As the first holiday dedicated to honoring an individual American, it was one of only five federally recognized holidays at the time, alongside Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July.

Today, the federal holiday of Presidents Day is not commonly perceived by most Americans as solely commemorating one particular president. Instead, it has evolved to symbolize a day dedicated to honoring and celebrating all of the commanders-in-chief of the United States, as stated by the U.S. Department of State.

Upon the implementation of the Uniform Holiday Bill in 1971, a provision was included to merge the celebration of George Washington's birthday with that of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th, as noted by History.com. This arrangement, resulting in a new annual date situated between the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, led Americans to perceive the day as an occasion to honor both presidents.

Notably, advertisers likely contributed to the transition to "Presidents Day." Numerous businesses seized the opportunity presented by the three-day weekend to attract customers with Presidents Day sales and discounts at stores nationwide, as outlined by History.com.

How is Presidents Day celebrated?

As Presidents Day is a federal holiday, the majority of federal employees will have the day off.

President Johnson aimed to provide Americans with an extended weekend "to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours," as he expressed. Consequently, tourist attractions such as the Washington Monument in D.C. and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, featuring the likenesses of four presidents - Washington, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt - are likely to draw numerous visitors.

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Like Independence Day, Presidents Day is also regarded as a patriotic celebration. While February might not be the best time for backyard barbecues and fireworks as July is, reenactments, parades, and other ceremonies are likely to occur in cities throughout the U.S.

Locations with Presidential Names across US

Despite potential divisions in opinions about current and recent presidents, it appears that Americans have a penchant for honoring their historical leaders, as evidenced by numerous places named after them.

In 2023, the U.S. Census Bureau released data highlighting interesting geographic facts related to presidents across the nation's cities and states.

Notably, the census data reveals that as of 2020, there are:

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  • 94 places named "Washington."

  • 72 places named "Lincoln."

  • 67 places named after Andrew Jackson, a controversial figure who owned slaves and was responsible for the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans along the Trail of Tears.

What's open and closed for Presidents Day 2024?

Here's a breakdown of what's open and closed for Presidents Day 2024:

Closed

  • Banks

Most banks will be closed, including the Federal Reserve Bank. However, TD Bank stores will remain open.

  • Post Office

Since Presidents Day is a federal holiday, USPS offices are expected to be closed.

  • Schools

Most public schools, such as Chicago Public Schools, are closed, but it's advisable to verify with your local school district.

  • Some government offices and facilities may also be closed.

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Open

  • UPS

UPS locations will be open for pickup and delivery services, with slight delays for UPS SurePost and UPS Mail Innovations deliveries.

The UPS Store locations will be open.

  • FedEx

While most routes will operate normally, FedEx Express and Ground Economy services will have modified service.

  • Grocery stores

Most grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Costco will be open, though it's recommended to check with your local store for specific hours.

  • Retailers and restaurants

Many big-box stores and restaurants will remain open, and some may even offer holiday sales in celebration of Presidents Day.

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