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By George, it's Presidents' Day! (or is it?)

When it comes to this third Monday in February, some confusion often comes into play! This mix-up is in the name. It is a Federal Holiday - but what's it called and what exactly does the holiday celebrate? Is it Presidents' Day or Washington's Birthday? After a little research, I realized it was a bit more complicated than I had thought.

I guess when it comes to a government issue, it's best to go straight to the source. So here it is, the Official List of U.S. Federal Holidays. The answer appears to be a clear one, "Monday, February 21, 2011 - Washington’s Birthday**"

So there's your answer right? It's Washington's Birthday after all. But wait a second, there's those two pesky asterisks. (You always know it's complicated if there's asterisks!) If you scroll down and look closely, you'll find the following:

Now we're getting somewhere! The holiday is officially known as "Washington's Birthday" according to Federal Law. But, in some states and localities, the day is observed to honor not just Washington, but Washington & Lincoln, or Washington & Jefferson, or all Presidents past and present. So it really just matters where you live.

But! Why is it that we all seemingly know the day as Presidents' Day? For that answer we dig deeper into the history books.

  • In the early 1950's there was a push to allow Federal Holidays to fall on Mondays so that they would create three-day weekends. A suggestion was made that "Washington's Birthday" be celebrated earlier so that it could nearly coincide with Abraham Lincoln's birthday of February 12th. In essence creating a "Presidents' Day."
  • The Federal Holiday was moved to the third Monday of February, placing it in between Lincoln's birthday and GW's birthday. However, it maintained the official name, "Washington's Birthday." Interestingly enough, February 22nd (Washington's date of birth) never falls on the third Monday of February.
  • As many as 12 states adopted the name "Presidents' Day" upon this switch. (North Carolina is not one of these)
  • In the 1980's, advertisers began to use the term "Presidents' Day" to brand extended sales in mid-February. "Presidents' Day sales" can still be found across the country.

So... the day may be officially known as "Washington's Birthday", but it's Presidents' Day to many. In fact it's often incorrectly referred to by some as "President's Day" -- a common misspelling indicating a singular president is being honored.

In the end it's all semantics, but the day should have the same sentiment: honoring great individuals who took our country in it's infancy and molded it into the great place it is today. Whether you're celebrating Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and all of our Presidents past and present - I think we can agree that it's a day to be thankful we've had such great visionary leaders in the past.

(It's not a bad day to have a cook out either!)

Have a happy Monday!

- TB






By: Tim Buckley


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