This year, Presidents’ Day is Monday, February 15! Which presidents do we celebrate on Presidents’ Day? And why do we commonly call it “Presidents’ Day” when the observed federal holiday is officially called “Washington’s Birthday”? Learn the history of this day—and the truth about a few George Washington myths.
Is This Holiday Called Presidents’ Day or Washington’s Birthday?
Although the holiday is most often referred to as “Presidents’ Day” in popular use, the observed federal holiday is officially called “Washington’s Birthday.”
Neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to Presidents’ Day. Additionally, Congress has never declared a national holiday binding in all states and each state decides its own legal holidays. This is why there are some calendar discrepancies when it comes to this holiday’s date. Read more from the National Archives.
So why is Washington’s Birthday commonly called Presidents’ Day?
In a sense, calling the holiday Presidents’ Day helps us reflect on not just the first president, but also the founding of our nation, the values, and what Washington calls in his Farewell Address, the “beloved Constitution and union, as received from the Founders.” Additionally, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is in February (on the 12th), so by calling the holiday “Presidents’ Day,” we can encompass another remarkable president in our celebrations as well.
Today, many calendars list the third Monday of February as Presidents’ Day, just as quite a few U.S. states do, too. Of course, all of the 3-day retail store sales are called “Presidents’ Day” sales and this vernacular has also been influential in how we reference the holiday.
When Is Presidents’ Day?
Presidents’ Day is observed annually on the third Monday in February. In 2021, Presidents’ Day will be celebrated on Monday, February 15.
|2021||Monday, February 15|
|2022||Monday, February 21|
|2023||Monday, February 20|
|2024||Monday, February 19|
Presidents’ Day History
Historically, Americans began celebrating George Washington’s Birthday just months after his death, long before Congress declared it a federal holiday. It was not until 1879, under President Rutherford B. Hayes, that Washington’s Birthday became a legal holiday, to be observed on his birthday, February 22.
Washington’s birthday was celebrated on February 22 until well into the 20th Century. In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.”
Today, George Washington’s Birthday is one of only eleven permanent holidays established by Congress. One of the great traditions followed for decades has been the reading of George Washington’s Farewell Address—which remains an annual event for the Senate to this day.
When Is George Washington’s Real Birthday?
Although the federal holiday is held on a Monday (the third Monday of February), George Washington’s birthday is observed on February 22. To complicate matters, Washington was actually born on February 11 in 1731! How can that be?
George Washington was originally born when the Julian calendar was being used. During Washington’s lifetime, people in Great Britain and America switched the official calendar system from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (something most of Europe had done way back in 1582).
As a result of this calendar reform, people born before 1752 were told to add 11 days to their birth dates. Those born between January 1 and March 25, as Washington was, also had to add one year to be in sync with the new calendar.
By the time Washington became president in 1789, he celebrated his birthday on February 22 and listed his year of birth as 1732.
To summarize, Washington’s birthday changed from February 11, 1731 (Old Style Julian calendar) to February 22, 1732 (New Style Gregorian calendar).
Myths About Washington
Legend has it, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree when he was 6 years old, and when confronted by his father, said, “I can not tell a lie. I did it with my hatchet.”
Well, we can not tell a lie, either. Washington didn’t say it; he didn’t even chop down the tree! This tale was in fact concocted by one of Washington’s biographers. Parson Mason Weems (1759–1825), one of Washington’s biographers, made up the story hoping to demonstrate Washington’s honesty.
This tale is not the only myth about Washington. His wooden dentures? They weren’t made of wood. Instead, they were made of hippopotamus teeth that had been filed down to fit Washington’s mouth.
We say: Celebrate the presidents’ birthdays with a cherry recipe! Here are our favorite cherry recipes for celebrating Washington’s birthday. They are easy to make and beautiful on the plate.
- Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies: See how to make these delicious cookies, plus a printable recipe.
- Cherry Cream Pie
- Cherry-Pistachio Cookies
- Cherry Brownies
- Mock Cherry Pie (with cranberries)
- Cherry Mocha Mousse Pie
- Cherry Thumbprints (with almonds)
- French Cherry Dessert
- Black Forest Cherry Torte
- Cherry Bounce (alcoholic drink)
George Washington Quote
Upon entering office, Washington was not convinced that he was the right man for the job. He wrote, “My movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” Fortunately for the young country, he was wrong.
Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble.
–George Washington (1732–99)
Do you do anything special to celebrate Presidents’ Day? Let us know in the comments!