Presidents’ Day (Washington’s Birthday)
On the third Monday in February of each year, there is a federal holiday called “Washington’s Birthday”. Many people call this holiday “Presidents Day” or “Presidents’ Day”. However, the United States government has not changed the name of “Washington’s Birthday” to “Presidents Day”, so the holiday is still legally called “Washington’s Birthday”.
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Uniform Holiday Bill creating three national holidays to be celebrated on three designated Mondays during each year. The new holidays would take effect on January 1, 1971. This bill would allow federal employees three-day weekends in which to have more family time.
The three holidays included in the bill are Washington’s Birthday, designated to be observed in February on the third Monday of the month; Memorial Day, designated to be observed in May on the last Monday of the month; and Veterans Day designated to be observed on November 11.
Also included in the 1968 Uniform Holidays Bill was an attempt to change the holiday name from “George Washington’s Birthday” to “Presidents Day” but this portion of the bill failed. The term “Presidents Day” mainly arose from a marketing perspective for businesses.
Companies market different “Presidents Day” advertisements for “money saved” or “discounts” on items throughout stores, car lots, or other business venues in order to attract a larger consumer base. Until 1971, both Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12th) and George Washington’s birthday (February 22nd) were still celebrated as individual holidays.
Federal entities such as schools and offices were closed on both days. In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed an executive order stating that all presidents’ birthdays should be celebrated on the holiday of “Washington’s Birthday” in February. Lincoln’s birthday was no longer considered a “holiday” day. All federal employees returned to working and students across the nation returned to learning on that day.
George Washington was born in Westmoreland County in Colonial Virginia to Augustine Washington and Mary Ball Washington. At the time George Washington was born, the Julian calendar was used throughout the land. Using the Julian calendar, George Washington’s date of birth was noted as February 11, 1731.
When the calendar was updated to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, George’s birth date was moved to February 22, 1732. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky.
His parents were Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The nation celebrated Abraham’s birthday as a holiday on February 12th of every year until 1971 when the nation no longer observed separate holidays for each president.
Each state can designate which federal holiday to observe and which federal holiday not to observe. All states do not have to follow the federal government’s holiday choices. For example, throughout the southern United States, some states would not recognize Lincoln’s birthday because of the civil war.
Many of these southern States chose to observe the holiday of Jefferson Davis Day as he was the President of the Confederate States of America during the United States Civil War. There are additional dilemmas surrounding George Washington’s Birthday.
One problem is that the United States Federal government has designated the third Monday of February as the celebration of his birthday; however, his actual birth date of February 22nd will never be on the third Monday of any February in any year.
Another dilemma appears when businesses across the nation call the third Monday in February “Presidents Day” and not “George Washington’s Birthday”. These discrepancies remain across the nation to this day with no resolution in sight.
When is President’s Day?
Presidents’ Day is a floating holiday and always falls on the third Monday of each February.
Ideas for Presidents’ Day
- Check out and read a library book on the life of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or any other US President.
- Visit the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois.
- Visit the State House in Annapolis, Maryland, and see where George Washington resigned from duty.