It’s George Washington’s Birthday
Happy Birthday, George Washington! In observance of Washington’s Birthday, Presidents Day is celebrated every year on the third Monday in February. The federal holiday brings about changes to what services are available and what offices are open on Feb. 18. Most government offices, schools, courts and banks are closed.
Contrary to popular belief, the observed federal holiday is actually called “Washington’s Birthday.” Neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to Presidents’ Day. Additionally, Congress has never declared a national holiday binding in all states and each state decides its own legal holidays.
So how did Washington’s Birthday come to be called Presidents’ Day? Many calendars list the third Monday of February as Presidents’ Day and many U.S. states list the holiday as Presidents’ Day. Of course, all of the 3-day retail store sales are called “Presidents’ Day” sales and this vernacular has also been influential in how we reference the holiday.
Historically, Americans began celebrating George Washington’s Birthday just months after his death, long before Congress declared it a federal holiday. It was not until 1879, under President Rutherford B. Hayes, that Washington’s Birthday became a legal holiday, to be observed on his birthday, February 22.
Washington’s birthday was celebrated on February 22 until well into the 20th Century. In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.”
Today, George Washington’s Birthday is one of only eleven permanent holidays established by Congress.
Upon entering office, Washington was not convinced that he was the right man for the job. He wrote, “My movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” Fortunately for the young country, he was wrong.