Washington's Birthday

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Washington's Birthday
Observed by United States
Type Federal (and most U.S. states)
Observances Community, historical celebrations; honoring the veterans and purple heart recipients; Congressional recognition.
Date Third Monday in February
2013 date February 18  (2013-02-18)
2014 date February 17  (2014-02-17)
2015 date February 16  (2015-02-16)
2016 date February 15  (2016-02-15)
Frequency Annual
Related to Lincoln's Birthday

Washington's Birthday is a United States federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February in honor of George Washington, the first President of the United States.

It is also a state holiday in most states where it is known by a variety of names including Presidents Day and Washington's and Lincoln's Birthday and officially celebrates, depending upon the state, Washington alone, Washington and Lincoln, or some other combination of U.S. presidents.[1] Some states celebrate Washington and the third president Thomas Jefferson but not Lincoln.[1]

Colloquially, the holiday is widely known as "Presidents Day" and is often an occasion to celebrate, or at least remember, all presidents and not just George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.[1] Both Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays are in February.[2] In historical rankings of Presidents of the United States both Lincoln and Washington are frequently, but not always, the top two presidents.[citation needed][3]

In Washington's adopted hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, celebrations are held throughout the month of February.[4]

History[edit]

Sign stating it is Washington's birthday

The federal holiday honoring George Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879 for government offices in Washington (20 Stat. 277) and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices (23 Stat. 516). As the first federal holiday to honor an American President, the holiday was celebrated on Washington's actual birthday, February 22.[5] On January 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.[6] This date places it between February 15 and 21, which makes the name "Washington's Birthday" in some sense a misnomer, since it never occurs on Washington's actual birthday, either February 11 (Old Style), or February 22 (New Style).

The first attempt to create a Presidents Day occurred in 1951 when the "President's Day National Committee" was formed by Harold Stone Bridge Fischer of Compton, California, who became its National Executive Director for the next two decades. The purpose was not to honor any particular President but to honor the office of the Presidency. It was first thought that March 4, the original inauguration day, should be deemed Presidents Day. However, the bill recognizing the March 4 date was stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee (which had authority over federal holidays). That committee felt that, because of its proximity to Lincoln's and Washington's Birthdays, three holidays so close together would be unduly burdensome.[citation needed] During this time, however, the Governors of a majority of the individual states issued proclamations declaring March 4 to be Presidents' Day in their respective jurisdictions.

An early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act would have renamed the holiday to "Presidents' Day" to honor the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln, which would explain why the chosen date falls between the two, but this proposal failed in committee, and the bill as voted on and signed into law on June 28, 1968, kept the name Washington's Birthday.

By the mid-1980s, with a push from advertisers, the term "Presidents' Day" began its public appearance.[7]

Official state holidays[edit]

Although Lincoln's birthday, February 12, was never a federal holiday, approximately a dozen state governments have officially renamed their Washington's Birthday observances as "Presidents' Day", "Washington and Lincoln Day", or other such designations. However, "Presidents' Day" is not always an all-inclusive term and might refer to only a selection of presidents.

In the following states, Washington's Birthday is an official state holiday and known as:[8]

  • President's Day in Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming
  • Presidents' Day in Hawaii, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont
  • Presidents Day in Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon
  • Washington's Birthday/President's Day in Maine
  • Lincoln/Washington/Presidents' Day in Arizona
  • Lincoln's and Washington's Birthday in Montana
  • Washington and Lincoln Day in Utah
  • Washington–Lincoln Day in Colorado [9]
  • Recognition of the birthday of George Washington in North Dakota
  • George Washington Day in Virginia
  • George Washington's Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day in Arkansas

In Massachusetts, the state officially celebrates "Washington's Birthday" on the same day as the Federal holiday. State law also directs the governor to issue an annual "Presidents Day" proclamation on May 29 (John F. Kennedy's birthday), honoring the presidents with Massachusetts roots: Kennedy, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Calvin Coolidge.[10]

In California,[11] Connecticut, Missouri, and Illinois, while Washington's Birthday is a federal holiday, Abraham Lincoln's birthday is still a state holiday, falling on February 12 regardless of the day of the week.

In New Mexico Presidents' Day, at least as a state-government paid holiday, is observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving.[12]

Observance and traditions[edit]

Flag and bunting mark Washington's Birthday in Toronto, Ontario.

Today, the February holiday has become well known for being a day in which many stores, especially car dealers, hold sales. Until the late 1980s, corporate businesses generally closed on this day, similar to present corporate practices on Memorial Day or Christmas Day. With the late 1980s advertising push to rename the holiday, more and more businesses are staying open on the holiday each year, and, as on Veterans Day and Columbus Day, most delivery services outside of the U.S. Postal Service now offer regular service on the day as well. Some public transit systems have also gone to regular schedules on the day. Many colleges and universities hold regular classes and operations on Presidents' Day. Various theories exist for this, one accepted reason being to make up for the growing trend of corporations to close in observance of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, when reviewing the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill debate of 1968 in the Congressional Record, one notes that supporters of the Bill were intent on moving federal holidays to Mondays to promote business.

Consequently, some schools, which used to close for a single day for both Lincoln's and Washington's birthday, now often close for the entire week (beginning with the Monday holiday) as a "mid-winter recess". For example, the New York City school district began doing so in the 1990s.

The federal holiday Washington's Birthday honors the accomplishments of the man known as "The Father of his Country". Celebrated for his leadership in the founding of the nation, he was the Electoral College's unanimous choice to become the first President; he was seen as a unifying force for the new republic and set an example for future holders of the office.

The holiday is also a tribute to the general who created the first military badge of merit for the common soldier. Revived on Washington's 200th birthday in 1932, the Purple Heart medal (which bears Washington's image) is awarded to soldiers who are injured in battle. As with Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Washington's Birthday offers another opportunity to honor the country's veterans.

Community celebrations often display a lengthy heritage. Washington's hometown of historic Alexandria, Virginia, hosts a month-long tribute, including the longest running George Washington Birthday parade, while the community of Eustis, Florida, continues its annual "George Fest" celebration begun in 1902. In Denver, Colorado there is a society dedicated to observing the day.[13] At the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and at Mount Vernon, visitors are treated to birthday celebrations throughout the federal holiday weekend and through February 22.

In 2007 the country celebrated both Washington's 275th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the rebirth of the Purple Heart medal.

Since 1862 there has been a tradition in the United States Senate that George Washington's Farewell Address[14] be read on his birthday. Citizens had asked that this be done in light of the approaching Civil War. The annual tradition continues with the reading of the address on or near Washington's Birthday.

Spelling[edit]

Washington's Birthday--Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street, by Childe Hassam, 1916

Because "Presidents' Day" is not the official name of the federal holiday, there is variation in how it is rendered. Both "Presidents Day" and "Presidents' Day" are common today, and both are considered correct by dictionaries and usage manuals. "Presidents' Day" was once the predominant style, and it is still favored by the majority of significant authorities—notably, The Chicago Manual of Style (followed by most book publishers and some magazines), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Webster's Third International Dictionary, and Garner's Modern American Usage. In recent years, as the use of attributive nouns (nouns acting as modifiers) has become more widespread, the popularity of "Presidents Day" has increased.[15] This style is favored by the Associated Press Stylebook (followed by most newspapers and some magazines) and the Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference (ISBN 978-1582973357).

"President's Day" is a misspelling when used with the intention of celebrating more than one individual (see also apostrophe); however, as an alternate rendering of "Washington's Birthday," or as denominating the commemoration of the presidency as a singular institution, it is a proper spelling of a possessive. Indeed, this spelling was considered for use as the official federal designation by Robert McClory, a congressman from Illinois who was tasked with getting the 1968 federal holiday reorganization bill through the House Judiciary Committee. Nonetheless, while Washington's Birthday was originally established to honor George Washington, the term "Presidents Day" was informally coined in a deliberate attempt to use the holiday to honor multiple presidents and is virtually always used that way today.[7] Though "President's Day" is sometimes seen in print,[16]—even sometimes on government Web sites,[17] this style is not endorsed by any major dictionary or usage authority.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Strauss, Valerie (February 16, 2014). "Why Presidents’ Day Is slightly strange". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Presidents' Day". HIP Pocket Change. United States Mint. Retrieved January 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ See Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States.
  4. ^ The George Washington Birthday Celebration
  5. ^ Washington was born on February 11, 1731, based on the Julian calendar then in use in the British Colonies. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted in the English Colonies (1752), he opted to begin observing his birthday anniversary on the equivalent date of February 22, 1732.
  6. ^ "Uniform Monday Holiday Act". National Archives and Records Administration. January 15, 1968. Retrieved February 15, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Arbelbide, C.L. (Winter 2004). "By George, It Is Washington's Birthday!". Prologue Magazine 36 (4). Retrieved February 13, 2009. 
  8. ^ See Public holidays in the United States for citations.
  9. ^ CRS 24-11-101
  10. ^ "Section 15VV Presidents Day". The General Laws of Massachusetts. ch. 6, § 15vv.  (Coolidge was the only one born outside of Massachusetts. George H. W. Bush, on the other hand, was born in Massachusetts, but has spent most of his life elsewhere.)
  11. ^ Cal. Gov. Code § 6700(c),(o)
  12. ^ "Official State Holidays". New Mexico State Treasurer's Office. Retrieved January 21, 2014. 
  13. ^ "The Charter". Presidents Day Society. Retrieved January 21, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Washington's Farewell Address". United States Senate. Archived from the original on July 30, 2008. Retrieved January 21, 2014. 
  15. ^ Nelson, Pam (March 23, 2006). "Kids Day or Kids' Day". Grammar Guide. The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC). Archived from the original on March 19, 2009. 
  16. ^ Hertzberg, Hendrik (February 19, 2007). "Too Many Chiefs". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 16, 2009. 
  17. ^ Office of the Press Secretary (February 19, 2007). "President Bush Visits Mount Vernon, Honors President Washington's 275th Birthday on President's Day" (Press release). The White House. Retrieved January 21, 2014. 

External links[edit]