As we get ready to celebrate the 135th official Presidents’ Day, we’d like to offer up a sincere thank you to the Founding Father responsible for our three-day weekend, our very first President, George Washington.
Despite our high reverence for our first Founding Father, America has done a pretty solid job of not acknowledging his actual birthday. According to the Gregorian calendar, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But when he was actually born, we were using the Julian calendar which put Washington’s birthday on February 11, 1731. (Technically, Britain and the colonies are at fault for that switch.) So for many years before the official advent of Presidents’ Day, America celebrated Washington’s birth on the 22nd of February, along with the tradition of reading aloud his farewell speech in commemoration of his birthday. Thankfully, for us, in 1879 Congress officially added his Gregorian birthday to the list of federal holidays.
But in the swinging ’60s (specifically, 1968), Congress decided that in order to increase “substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation” we should have more three-day weekends. So they passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which officially changed the celebration of Washington’s birthday to be the third Monday in February. (The bill also changed Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day to all take place on Mondays.) And the kicker? The third Monday in February can never be later than the 21st.
So on behalf of America, we’re sorry we never got your birthday right, Mr. President. But we’ll have plenty of time to atone for it over our three-day weekend.