History Q&A February 20, 2012: What is Presidents’ Day Officially Called? Washington’s Birthday — A Brief History of (What You Think Is) Presidents’ Day

HISTORY Q&A:

A Brief History of (What You Think Is) Presidents’ Day

The first thing to know: it’s not officially called Presidents’ Day

Source: Time, 2-20-12

Roger Viollet Collection / Getty Images

Roger Viollet Collection / Getty Images

To set the record straight, today isn’t actually Presidents’ Day. It is still known as Washington’s Birthday, according to the federal government and section 6103(a) of title 5 of the U.S. Code.

Give George Washington the credit he’s due, since this whole holiday thing started in 1796 when people began celebrating him during his final year as President. But even then, his Feb. 22 birthday wasn’t a clear-cut date. At that time, there was still a bit of confusion over the change in calendar systems, especially considering Washington’s birthday dated back to 1732. For those still using the old-school Julian-style calendar, which was in use in England until 1752, Washington’s birthday was Feb. 11. The Gregorian calendar, which took over for the Julian style, however, had his birthday as Feb. 22. That led to some confusion in the 1700s.

But our forefathers worked through their differences and landed on honoring Washington annually on Feb. 22, often with galas in Washington, D.C., and the tried and true U.S. pastime of drinking. The tradition of celebrating Washington continued for the next 90 or so years, and Congress made the holiday a law, giving Washington the first federal holiday to honor a person when they made it official in 1880….READ MORE

The use of Presidents’ Day as the name continued to grow in popularity, gaining widespread acceptance by the 1980s. Then, in 1999, due to Presidents’ Day having taken over as the accepted name, a pair of bills tried to force the official use of Washington’s Birthday for the holiday (Ronald Reagan’s birthday on Feb. 6 has added a fourth presidential birthday to the month of February). But there wasn’t much support for that, in essence offering Presidents’ Day a chance to celebrate not only Washington and Lincoln, but also all other presidents. Even Harrison.

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