President's Day 2014: Is it Really George Washington's Birthday?

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By Johnlee Varghese | February 17, 2014 11:59 PM EST

Mount Rushmore Monument/WikiCommons
Mount Rushmore Monument/WikiCommons

It’s President's Day, a time for big sales, a holiday but what is it for? Is it really George Washington's birthday or is it Abraham Lincoln's birthday?

It's quite strange, as President's Day 2014 - 17 February, is neither the birthday of Washington or Abe. In fact, Lincoln's birthday was on 12 February, while Washington's falls on 22 February.

But then what happened? Well, according to the US National Archives, the passage of Public Law 90-363 in 1968 moved the traditional observance of Washington's birthday from 22 February to the third Monday in February. Since Washington's birthday fell right after Lincoln's birthday (February 12), many states chose to combine the two events into President's Day, a day that is now used for honoring all former US Presidents.

The archive records note that "in 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to 'provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays'. Therefore, by creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to "bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation."

Ironically, this means that the holiday would never be celebrated on Washington's actual birthday.

President’s Day to a large extend is celebrated as Washington’s birthday but some states in fact honor both Washington and Lincoln. However, there are also states that honor Washington and Thomas Jefferson but not Lincoln on President’s Day, while some states honor all Presidents.

Then there are states such as Illinois that has declared Lincoln’s birthday on 12 February as a state holiday and also observes the federal holiday.

In Virginia, Washington’s home state, the holiday is called George Washington’s Day. In Alabama, it is called “Washington and Jefferson Day” though Jefferson was born on 13 April.

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