Presidents’ Day

By an 1879 Act of Congress, federal offices in Washington DC closed to celebrate the birthday of George Washington. Six years later, the holiday was extended to all federal offices. The date selected was to be George Washington’s birthday. And that presented a problem. When the President was born, the calendar used in the colonies was the Julian Calendar. By the time of the Act, the new government adopted the Gregorian calendar. As a result, the President’s birthday changed from February 11th to February 22nd.

There was a similar effort to honor the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, but his birthday on February 12th was too close for another federal holiday.

In 1951, an attempt was made to think of celebrating the office of the Presidency with what had been called Washington’s Birthday. The date of the first Presidential inauguration was recommended as the date for the celebration. As we have come to expect from Congress, they could not reach an agreement. Governors in a majority of states did decide to declare March 4th as Presidents’ Day.

Years later, an early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act reviewed the idea of Presidents’ Day to honor the birthdays of both Presidents Washington and Lincoln. The date selected was to be between both of their birthdays. Again, Congress could not come to an agreement.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act did pass with the official title of Washington’s Birthday to be celebrated as the third Monday in February. However, since they couldn’t agree on the name George Washington’s birthday is the official name of the holiday. The name Presidents’ Day still remains and is the date used in many states. Like most of our holidays, commercial interests have dictated how we think of Washington’s Birthday (aka Presidents’ Day).

Ironically Washington’s Birthday will never be celebrated on his birthday of February 22nd since the third Monday in February can only fall on a date between February 15 and 21. This is just another example of how our national holidays have been subverted by commercial interests.

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“Washington’s birthday is worthy of celebration – he is one of the greatest men in history. But Washington himself would likely have seen the celebration of the office of the presidency itself as monarchic in nature.” – Ben Shapiro

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