Monday, February 16, 2015

The Mixed Up Holiday

Today, I am repeating a post from February 2013.  It's a bit amusing that I am off from work today due to a Federal holiday here in the United States that is a lot more than it appears on the surface.

This holiday is actually a sensitive subject in some parts of our country, proving (to me, anyway), that we are still fighting a war that ended 150 years ago this spring.


What's in a Name?

Today, in the United States, we are celebrating a holiday called - well, it depends on where you live.

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. When I lived in Illinois it was always celebrated on Lincoln's birthday. Now that we're in Iowa it is President's Day. So confusing!

    1. Here in New York, it is Presidents' Day. Yes, confusing. I see that, in Illinois, they still have a separate state holiday for Lincoln - which, considering the importance of Lincoln in Illinois history, is appropriate.

  2. I never knew the real birthday of Washington nor the reasoning behind having them put together for a 3-day holiday. Right now my son is off for an entire week for this and other teacher-in-service days.
    Also, didn't know about other states not acknowledging Lincoln. We're a stubborn people.

  3. This is all very new information for me. Thank you for sharing this important research! I had no idea. I certainly cannot understand why our school district has MLK off but not President's Day. Beats me.

  4. I can't recall anything confusing like this, although the May Day holiday is rather archaic. Who dances around the maypole nowadays? Hehe.


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