What do you think of when you think of Presidents’ Day? Most working men and women begin planning what to do with another three-day weekend. Too bad it’s in February. The weather can be a problem. So why is it in February and not some more convenient month? You have George Washington to thank for that. He was born on February 22, 1732. Oh, and Abraham Lincoln as well—born on February 12, 1809. But I’m afraid Ole Abe is kind of an afterthought. It originated as an Act of Congress in 1879 celebrating Washington’s birthday, and all government employees in our nation’s capitol were given the day off. As you can imagine, federal workers in the rest of the country were terribly hurt. I mean, weren’t they just as patriotic and hard working as their counterparts in D.C.? If you cut them, did they not bleed red, white, and blue? And so it wasn’t long before all federal agencies were honoring President Washington on his birthday by taking a day off to celebrate.
It wasn’t until 1971 that some Washington pragmatist—if such a soul exists—came up with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This made it so that all federal holidays would occur on Mondays. Which means that “Washington’s Birthday”, as it was called before, always fell between February 15th and the 21st. Hmmm. That’s when someone else remembered good old Abe. Yes! We can say that the holiday is set between the two birthdays and call it Presidents’ Day. Voila. No, not voila.
You see, states have varying degrees of latitude in many things and this is one of them. I’m not going into all of them, but here are a few examples:
Massachusetts abides by Presidents’ Day, but calls it Washington’s Birthday…even though it’s not really his birthday. However, they reserve the title of Presidents Day (notice no apostrophe) for John F. Kennedy’s birthday, May 29th.
And then there’s Thomas Jefferson. Where did he come from you might ask. Well, in Alabama, Tom is celebrated right along with George—even thought Tom’s birthday isn’t until April.
Lastly, if you want to drag it out all year, go to New Mexico the day after Thanksgiving when…you guessed it…it’s Presidents’ Day.
So, as you can see, it’s a little more complicated than it looks at first blush. As for me, I can always remember George Washington’s actual birthday because that was my Grandma’s birthday as well. Happy birthday, Grandma. Say hello to George for me.