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The History Behind Presidents Day

This coming Monday, we’ll be celebrating our 135th Presidents Day by recognizing Bro. George Washington, and the other great presidents of our nation’s history. But how did we first come to celebrate the day? What was the catalyst for this day of recognition? Keep reading for a brief history of the day, and ways you can celebrate.

Established in 1885 originally under the moniker of Washington’s Birthday, Presidents Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February, largely in recognition of President and Freemason Bro. George Washington. The story of the Presidents Day date begins in 1800. Following Bro. Washington’s death in 1799, his birthday, February 22nd, became a day of remembrance for the nation’s first president.

Today, Presidents Day has become a universal recognition of the greatest leaders of our country. It is important to keep in mind that in the 1800s, Bro. Washington was regarded as the most important figure in American history and was celebrated in more ways than one. During the 1832 centennial of his birth, Congress established a Joint Committee to arrange for national celebrations of our nation’s first president. And then again in 1848 at the start of construction of the Washington Monument, Bro. Washington was celebrated again.

While Washington’s Birthday was built on this momentum as an unofficial observance during the 1800s, in the late 1870s it became a federal holiday. Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas was the first to propose the measure, and in 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law.

At the start, Washington’s Birthday was only recognized in the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country. Washington’s Birthday changed history as just the fifth nationally recognized federal bank holiday—joining Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving—and was the first to celebrate the life of an individual American. 

As time progressed and history saw important moments in time led by strong and captivating national leaders, in 1971, the holiday transformed to be popularly known as Presidents Day. This took place after it was moved as part of President Richard Nixon’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others, Presidents Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present.

So as you celebrate today, take the time to reflect on what Bro. George Washington was able to accomplish, the legacy he left, and the legacies of the 13 other Masonic Presidents. As you reflect, take the moment to pause and think of how you can continue the legacies of our greatest Presidents and instill their values into your daily life.

Do you or your lodge have any plans for celebrating Presidents Day this coming weekend? Share with us by emailing!

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