Washington’s Birthday

February 20, 2012 by staff 

Washington’s Birthday, Everyone is calling today Presidents’ Day, and probably thinking of it as a combo Washington-Lincoln birthday. But its real name, at least according to the federal government, is Washington’s Birthday (celebrated every year on the third Monday of February). The U.S., however, has never–at any time–recognized a Presidents’ Day.

True, Washington’s Birthday has been officially observed by the federal government since it was signed into federal law by President Grover Cleveland in 1885–but not Lincoln’s. The emancipation of millions of Americans from slavery apparently doesn’t rate with federal legislators.

In 1968, some effort was made to include Lincoln, whose birthday is Feb. 12, when the feds moved the observance of Washington’s birthday from its actual date (Feb. 22) to the third Monday of February (which this year is the 20th). Many people wanted to rename this new third-Monday holiday “Presidents’ Day” to recognize Lincoln, but the idea never passed into U.S. law.

But at that time, the name did gain a foothold in the popular imagination, and that foothold has since become a well-established fortress in many people’s minds. Presidents’ Day appears on calendars and advertising fliers, and, to add to the confusion, is listed by certain federal agencies. Moreover, a dozen states now do observe a Presidents’ Day. Other, mostly northern states, designate Lincoln’s Birthday as a separate legal holiday.

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