Given the political climate—especially as of late—many may feel reluctant to celebrate Presidents’ Day. Fortunately, the very nature of this holiday, including its punctuation, is debatable. The legal holiday only has one meaning, yet the definition often differs from state to state, as well as the name. Personally, anyone can use the day to celebrate anything they wish— it’s a free country after all.
The holiday formally called “Washington’s Birthday” as of 1885, also known as “President’s Day” and using the singular possessive to indicate the celebration of America’s first president and his legacy, is now more commonly referred to as “Presidents Day” or “Presidents’ Day,” referring to all past and present American presidents. Rejected at first but then passed in 1971—following a law concerning the day that federal holidays should fall on—the legal definition of the newly updated holiday honors both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. And although the initial name remains, newspapers and advertisements and magazines often stylistically refrain from using it.
Most states choose to call the holiday by its legal name or various punctuational variations of “Presidents’ Day,” while a few include other presidents or significant people along with Washington, and a handful of states do not officially celebrate the day at all. Despite this, people can make their own decisions as to whether they celebrate it or not and what it is exactly that they want to commemorate.
An example of this may be the commercialized versions of Christmas and Easter— the original holidays are religious, while the whimsical ones have evolved from other holidays and legends from Europe. The Christmas of Santa Claus and magic originated as St. Nicholas’s Day, celebrating a Greek bishop who defended the Christian church during the Great Persecution and was thus incarcerated until Emperor Constantine of Rome put a stop to the persecution. Nicholas is also said to have gifted enough gold for an indebted father to buy back his young daughters from prostitution, as well as located and resurrected three boys who had been murdered and hidden in barrels in the basement of an inn. Excluding time periods in which various historical events prevented his celebration, “St. Nicholas was the unchallenged bringer of gifts and the toast of celebrations centered around his feast day, December 6,” according to National Geographic. The appearance and magical properties of Santa Claus came from the influence of various pagan gods, as well as the idea of the naughty and nice lists.
On Presidents’ day, personally, I choose to celebrate the presidents who I believe have changed America for the better—including Washington and Lincoln and a few others—and the people who have made it even slightly easier to pursue an America where more and more people feel safe.