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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/15/2010

Who are we really honoring on Presidents’ Day?

By Valerie Strauss

I asked a few teenagers who is being celebrated on Presidents’ Day. One said George Washington’s birthday, two said Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and one wondered if it wasn’t a day to celebrate all presidents.

You may be surprised to learn that officially, the holiday is still recognized by the U.S. government as “Washington’s Birthday.” It says so on the government website’s list of official holidays.

The site says:

Washington’s Birthday is a federal holiday observed the third Monday of February to honor George Washington, the first President of the United States. This date is commonly called Presidents’ Day and many groups honor the legacy of past presidents on this date.

Here’s a brief history of the day:

--Feb. 22, Washington’s actual birthday, became a U.S. government holiday in 1885.

--In the early 1950s, there was a movement led by a coalition of travel organizaitons to create three-day weekends by moving the celebration of some holidays to Mondays.

One of the suggestions was to create a Presidents’ Day between Washington’s and Lincoln’s Feb. 12 birthday. Lincoln’s was a holiday in some states but was never made a federal holiday though it was a holiday in some states. A few states tried the new arrangement but it was not universally adopted across the country. Also in the early 1950s, there was a proposal to make March 4--the original presidential inauguration day--a day to honor all presidents.

--In 1971, some holidays moved to Mondays under a U.S. law that created three-day weekends for federal employees. States, however, were not required to honor them.

Today, there is no unanimous name for this holiday, always on the third Monday in February, be--and, in fact, even when it is called Presidents’ Day, sometimes the apostrophe is missing and sometimes it is between the last two letters.

In Virginia, the first president's home state, the holiday is called George Washington's Day. Not in Alabama. There it is “Washington and Jefferson Day," in honor of George and Thomas Jefferson, even though he was born on April 13. Lincoln isn’t mentioned.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 15, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  History  | Tags:  presidents' day  
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Comments

Public employees. They're the only workers who get the day off.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | February 15, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

"Whom" do we honor? "Whom" does Presidents' Day honor?...

Posted by: qualt | February 15, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Technically, February 22 was not George Washington's actual birthday. Britain and its colonies did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Under the Julian calendar, Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1731. (The Julian new year began in March.) When the calendar changed, he altered his birthday to be the same number of days from his birth, Feb. 22.

So it really doesn't matter when we celebrate it, does it?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 16, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

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