Lincoln’s Birthday is a legal holiday in some U.S. states including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Indiana. It is observed on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth on February 12, 1809.
The earliest known observance of Lincoln’s birthday occurred in Buffalo, New York, in 1874. Julius Francis (d. 1881), a Buffalo druggist, made it his life’s mission to honor the slain president. He repeatedly petitioned Congress to establish Lincoln’s birthday as a legal holiday.
The day is marked by traditional wreath-laying ceremonies at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky, and at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The latter has been the site of a ceremony ever since the Memorial was dedicated. Since that event in 1922, observances continue to be organized by the Lincoln Birthday National Commemorative Committee and by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). A wreath is laid on behalf of the President of the United States, a custom also carried out at the grave sites of all US presidents on their birthdays. Lincoln’s tomb is in Springfield, Illinois.
On February 12, 2009, the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial commemorated Lincoln’s 200th birthday in grand fashion. An extended ceremony, organized by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC) and with help from MOLLUS, featured musical performances from four-time Grammy-nominated singer Michael Feinstein and the U.S. Marine Corps. Band. The morning celebration also featured remarks by Sen. Dick Durbin; Lincoln scholar and ALBC Co-Chair Harold Holzer; recently retired Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice – and ALBC Commissioner – Frank J. Williams; and author Nikki Giovanni reciting her newest work, which was written especially for the Bicentennial.
As part of Lincoln’s birthday bicentennial, the U.S. Mint released four new pennies. The commemorative coins have new designs on the reverse showing stages of his life. The first went into circulation on February 12, 2009. The standard portrait of Lincoln’s head remains on the front. The new designs include a log cabin representing his birthplace, Lincoln as a young man reading while sitting on a log that he was taking a break from splitting, Lincoln as a state legislator in front of the Illinois Capitol, and the partially built dome of the U.S. Capitol.
Many states that had formerly observed Lincoln’s birthday have created a joint holiday to honor both Lincoln and George Washington, sometimes calling it “Presidents Day”. It coincides with the Federal holiday officially designated “Washington’s Birthday”, observed on the third Monday of February. There has never been an annual Federal holiday honoring Lincoln.
When the state of West Virginia, which entered the union under Lincoln, abolished the February holiday, it codified the long-time practice of the Governor granting state and county workers Black Friday as an additional day off as an official state holiday. Republicans in the state legislature sponsored a successful amendment to name the holiday “Lincoln’s Day”.