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Tuesday Trivia: Washington's Birthday or Presidents Day?

J. H. Osborne • Feb 12, 2019 at 8:30 PM

For this week's Tuesday Trivia, we consider the upcoming three-day weekend many government and some private workers will enjoy.

Next Monday, Feb. 18, is a federal holiday. It's often called "Presidents Day," but that's a misnomer. Officially, the holiday is Washington's Birthday.

It's been around a long time, but some tinkering 50 years ago — along with advertising by retailers — probably propelled perception of the holiday as "Presidents Day."

The following points come from information on the website of George Washington's Mount Vernon:

• During his lifetime, Washington paid little attention to his own birthday, and he often “celebrated” it by responding to letters or attending to matters at Mount Vernon.

• National celebration of his birthday, however, did begin during his lifetime. But it wasn’t until Jan. 31, 1879, that the United States Congress made Washington's birthday a federal holiday.

• Until 1968, Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on Feb. 22. It was tradition and a powerful reminder of the man who helped create what we have today in the United States.

• On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the "Uniform Monday Holiday Act." The intent: provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays — and provide federal employees with more three-day weekends. Under this new law, Washington’s birthday would be celebrated on the third Monday of February.

• Washington’s birthday has not been celebrated on the actual day of his birth since the law took effect in 1971. Many people theorize "Presidents Day" is meant to celebrate the birthdays of both Washington and President Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), or to honor all U.S. presidents. But "Presidents' Day" is not the official name of the holiday.

• While the name “Presidents Day” was proposed for this Monday holiday in 1951, the U.S. government never officially changed the name. In the 1980s, thanks to advertising campaigns for holiday sales, the term became popularized and largely accepted.

• The idea behind the name was to create a holiday that did not recognize a specific president, but rather celebrated the office of the presidency. This joint recognition would also celebrate President Lincoln's Feb. 12 birthday within the same period.

• While it may seem like the entire nation observes “Presidents Day,” Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, and New York specifically recognize the third Monday in February as “Washington’s Birthday” or “George Washington Day." Some states, such as Virginia, celebrate Washington’s birthday the entire month of February. In the city of Laredo, Texas, an annual Washington’s Birthday Celebration that began in 1898 lasts the entire month.

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