Monday, February 18, 2013

What's in a Name?

Today, in the United States, we are celebrating a holiday, no one really knows.

When I was growing up, there was a holiday, Washington's Birthday, which was celebrated on - imagine that, his birthday. February 22. We'll ignore the fact that Washington actually was NOT born on February 22.  He was born on February 11, 1732, under the old Julian calendar.  When Britain switched over to the Gregorian calendar we now use, his birth date was renumbered.

(Can you imagine the chaos today, in our computer-driven world, if they renumbered the calendar?  More proof that our ancestors were more adaptable to change in some ways than we moderns are.)

February 22 became a Federal holiday in 1885. Washington's Birthday, honoring George Washington, our first President.  The beloved "Father of our Country." 

Well, that meant that sometimes the holiday could not be celebrated as a three day weekend.  We couldn't have that, could we?  In the early 1970's it was decided that Washington's birthday, and several other holidays that were celebrated on specific days, would be moved so we could have three day weekends.

So, this holiday was moved to the third Monday of February.  Ironically that also means it can never be celebrated on February 22.

After all these years, most people here no longer call the holiday "Washington's Birthday", although that is still its official name.  It is called either "Presidents' Day" or "President's Day". (Sometimes, Presidents Day with no comma.) And herein lies the power of a comma.

Presidents' Day:  honors all Presidents. President's Day: honors one President.  George Washington. Or maybe not always.

Adding to the confusion, states have passed their own laws specifying what the holiday is called, and the honoree(s) thereof.  Some states honor Washington.  Some states honor Washington and Lincoln (Lincoln was the Federal president during our Civil War 1861-1865). At least one Southern state honors Washington and another President, Thomas Jefferson, as most of the states that seceded during the Civil War still choose not to honor Lincoln in any way, 152 years after the fact.

So, if you are in the United States, happy....uh, whatever your state calls it.

And if you are not from the United States - does your country have something as confusing?


  1. Very interesting. As Americans we forget the history behind these holidays so I appreciate the lesson. And to think about them changing our calendar today takes too many brain cells to comprehend. Great Job!

    1. Thank you! History has been one of my interests since I was a little girl. In those days, most teachers made the subject deadly boring. I am glad if I can make history interesting. To me, the story of humanity is fascinating.

  2. Um Happy do dah's LOL. Well that has got me completely confused (doesn't take a lot) I was going to say oh please don't talk about a different calender but ya know what - I don't think it would make any difference to me - I rarely know what day it is and often confused about the month haha!
    I Loved your post it made me smile.
    I live in France at the mo and Greece before that so been away form my UK home for more than a few years - I do get confused when i hear they have changed the name of holidays, unfortunately it is mostly political - I don't like that!
    I don't like that i can't say 'Happy Christmas' anymore for fear of offending someone else's religious beliefs????

    1. No worries - no calendar changes since 1752 (when the change from Julian to Gregorian took place) and none scheduled that I know of. I'm confused a lot too - if I ever retire I will never know the day of the week, either! Sorry to hear they are playing with holidays in Europe, too. I was especially saddened by Veterans Day (what the UK calls Armistice Day) being moved from November 11. That date had so much meaning!

  3. I, for one, would not care to celebrate all presidents. And I certainly oouldn't single out ONE for celebration. Perhaps celebrate our history that allows the election of a president and all that that means....

  4. Wow, which states refuse to honor Lincoln?


Your comments sustain me, as long as they are civil, are on topic, and do not contain profanity, advertising of any kind, links or spam. Any messages not meeting these criteria will immediately be composted, and my flowers will enjoy their contents.