Presidents Day? It's not Washington or Lincoln's birthday today! And there really is no statutory federal designation or holiday called "Presidents Day". But, the malls are having great sales, schools are closed and federal employees have the day off. Let me explain.
Up until 1971, February 22 was observed as a federal holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington. People used that day to remember a great man, and celebrate. Washington's Birthday was the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, and was was celebrated on Washington's actual birthday according to the Gregorian calendar. It was originally implemented by the federal government in 1880 in the District of Columbia and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices.
Lincoln's birthday was never made a federal holiday, however it is a legal holiday in the U.S. state of Illinois and in some other states. It is observed on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth on February 12, 1809. Again, this to is to pay homage to one of our important leaders.
In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill of 1968 was enacted. It was legislation designed to give federal employees more three day weekends. In the case of what is called "Presidents Day"; Washington's birthday is still celebrated, but not now always on his actual birthday, and since Lincoln's birthday was nearby on the calendar, many took the opportunity to combine the two and just call the federal Monday holiday in honor of Washington's birthday in February, "Presidents Day". This of course, has worked quite well for retailers, and now we are used to thinking, that this holiday was meant to honor all presidents. According to federal Statute, that really wasn't the case.
There are lots of urban legends out there about this holiday, but the truth is that it really still is the celebration of Washington's birthday and has morphed into "Presidents Day" by popular observance, mostly pushed by retailers. The mythology of Presidents Day being a celebration of all presidents, is also unfortunately taught to our kids in school. I am sure they have absolutely no idea what the real meaning of this day off is all about.
Read the actual statute..
TITLE 5 > PART III > Subpart E > CHAPTER 61 > SUBCHAPTER I > § 6103
The following are legal public holidays:
New Year’s Day, January 1.
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January.
Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February.
Memorial Day, the last Monday in May.
Independence Day, July 4.
Labor Day, the first Monday in September.
Columbus Day, the second Monday in October.
Veterans Day, November 11.
Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November.
Christmas Day, December 25.
An explanation of Federal Statute regarding holidays says this:
1968—Subsec. (a). Pub. L. 90–363 added Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, to the enumerated legal public holidays, and substituted provisions that Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day are to be celebrated on the third Monday in February, the last Monday in May, and the fourth Monday in October, respectively, for provisions that the above mentioned public holidays are to be celebrated on February 22, May 30, and November 11, respectively.So happy Washington's un-birthday and I hope that you enjoy the day just the same.
Presidential Factfile has some great information and resources about our presidents.