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Posted at 2:00 AM ET, 02/21/2011

Whom does Presidents' Day really honor?

By Valerie Strauss

Ask half a dozen people who Presidents' Day is meant to honor, and you may get half a dozen different answers. There isn't even universal agreement on whether there is an apostrophe in "presidents."

To the U.S. government, Presidents' Day is still recognized as “Washington’s Birthday." On the government website’s list of official holidays, sandwiched between Valentine’s Day and Easter, it 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.

In fact in some states the day jointly honors the birthdays of Washington, born Feb. 22, and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is Feb. 12. But in others the day is meant to honor Washington and Thomas Jefferson but not Lincoln, or all of the presidents.

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 organizations 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.

And even when it is called Presidents’ Day, sometimes the apostrophe is missing, sometimes it is between the last two letters, and sometimes (as used here) after the last letter.

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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http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/history/who-are-we-really-honoring-on.html

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.


Follow my blog every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed Bookmark it!


By Valerie Strauss  | February 21, 2011; 2:00 AM ET
Categories:  History  | Tags:  abraham lincoln's birthday, george washington's birthday, holidays, lincoln's birthday, national holidays, presidents day, washington's birthday  
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Next: A Presidents' Day quiz

Comments

The United States needs a natural teacher with a history of being a solid leader in business in 2012, as we will experience the diminishing role of expensive big government. We do not need a philosopher or a reflector who is concerned about being a living documentary for their future memoirs.

Posted by: fair1 | February 21, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Marin Luther King, of course. Doesn't it say something about our priorities that we specifically honor a "Community Activist", but not the President who started the finest nation ever; or the President who actually accomplished a specific task--Free The Slaves?

Posted by: fregameeate | February 21, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

"Whom" does Presidents' day honour? Shame on you: "who"!

Posted by: ianstuart | February 21, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Will someone help my with my memory? My father always said when he was a boy--the 1920s--he got Washington's Birthday off from school and he thought they got Lincoln's birthday off too. My brothers and I agree that in the 1950s our schools were open on Lincoln's Birthday, but I am alone in insisting that we attended on Washington's Birthday also. I clearly remember that every year the school lunch on that day included a slab of vanilla ice cream with one cherry in it or with a red hatchet decorating it.

Incidentally, it doesn't much matter when we celebrate Washington's Birthday; he was actually born on Feb. 11 under the Old Style dates of the Julian Calendar. In the mid-18th century, Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar, which meant a loss of 11 days, and Washington began celebrating his birtday on Feb. 22. (A lot of people objected, believing their lives were therefore shortened by 11 days.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 21, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Sorry ianstuart, but Valerie's grammar is correct in the headline.

Make the headline into a declarative sentence and substitute the pronoun "him" as the object. You would say "President's Day honors him." You wouldn't say "President's day honors he."

Hence, "Whom does Presidents' Day really honor?" is grammatically correct.


Posted by: louiswilen1 | February 21, 2011 7:58 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: patsygwhite | February 22, 2011 5:44 AM | Report abuse

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