For most holidays, the meaning is pretty straightforward. On the Fourth of July, the nation celebrates the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. On Memorial Day we remember the military men and women who died in active service. Presidents Day is a little more ambiguous—and that’s not even its real name.
The U.S. government recognizes today as George Washington’s birthday.
“George Washington was the first president of the United States,” the official description reads. “The observance of George Washington’s Birthday is the third Monday in February. Many Americans refer to the holiday as Presidents’ Day as a way of honoring all past presidents. Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor any president has ever officially changed the name of the holiday to ‘Presidents’ Day.’”
And no one’s in agreement whether to use an apostrophe there either.
Though originally created to recognize the birthday of our nation’s first president, the holiday has become yet another three-day weekend in 1971 with the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which created more extended weekends for workers. It’s since become marketing fodder for companies trying to shill mattresses and cars and whatever else to get people to spend money on their day off.
Locally, most city, county and other government offices are closed, all mail delivery is taking a day off and the banks have shut their doors until Tuesday. There’s no City Council meeting tomorrow, as San Jose officials almost always cancel the meetings that fall right after a Monday holiday.
Regardless of what you call today, it’s generally regarded as a time for patriotic celebration and reflection. TIME Magazine posted an article on some presidents’ views of their predecessors. The Bio Channel looks at life at times of the first U.S. president. And the International Business Times pulled together a fine collection of presidential quotes.