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How to Understand the History of Presidents' Day

Americans chose to honor George Washington in the final year of his presidency by celebrating his birthday as a state holiday in all 13 states. Here's the subsequent history of the holiday now known as Presidents' Day.


  • Step 1: Be aware that many Americans believe the name of the holiday is Presidents' Day because the holiday falls between the two presidents' birthdays. Although the name has not been officially changed by Congress, it has been widely used on calendars, in advertising, and by many government agencies.
  • FACT: In 1731, the year of George Washington's birth, the United States used the Julian calendar and Washington's birthday fell on February 11. Later, when the country adopted the Gregorian calendar, the birthday shifted to February 22.
  • TIP: A proposal was made to change the name of the holiday from Washington's Birthday to Presidents' Day to honor both Lincoln and Washington, but it was rejected.
  • Step 2: Realize that in 1968, legislation was put in place to shift the observation of Washington's Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February.
  • Step 3: Know that many states outside the South recognized Abraham Lincoln's February 12 birthday as a state holiday following Lincoln's assassination in 1865. But the day was never made a national holiday.
  • Step 4: Be aware that Washington's Birthday did not become an official American holiday until 1885, when President Chester Arthur made it a federal holiday.

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