Is it Presidents Day? Or is it Washington’s Birthday?
In a way, it’s both.
Presidents Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. It was first celebrated on Feb. 22, 1800, to celebrate the birthday of America’s first president the year after he died. George Washington died of a throat infection and was buried within the week in the family vault at Mount Vernon, according to the historic site’s website.
Washington’s birthday didn’t immediately become a federally designated holiday, as the newly minted country had much to consider. It wasn’t until the 1870s when Sen. Stephen Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas proposed the measure for President Rutherford B. Hayes to sign into law, according to History.com.
Since then, the holiday has evolved to include commemorating the life of Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was also in February. In later years, it’s been noted that former Presidents William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan also had February birthdays.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act enacted in the 1960s is what morphed the two celebrations together as a way to shift disparate holidays to Mondays permanently, which in turn created long weekends for the country’s workers that lawmakers at the time thought could help with employee absenteeism. Most of the 11 federal holidays in 2023 will on a Monday.
When the honorary birthdays merged into one holiday, the name “Presidents Day” caught on because retailers used it to promote sales; Congress had initially rejected the new name, according to Britannica.
This year, Presidents Day falls on Monday, Feb. 20. and is a holiday for most federal workers.
The Office of Personnel Management even has its own take on the day’s naming convention:
“This holiday is designated as ‘Washington’s Birthday’ ... in United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.”
No matter what you call it, banks, schools and non-essential government offices are closed.
Those who are required to work are generally entitled to holiday premium pay, according to OPM, which is double their basic pay rate. Federal law does not require state governments and private institutions to close on federal holidays, though many do.
The next federal holiday is Memorial Day on (you guessed it!) Monday, May 29, 2023.
Celebrate Presidents Day 2023 around the Capitol region
In modern times, the holiday is celebrated with educational events, parades and trips to the National Mall if the D.C. winter weather permits.
Mount Vernon is offering free admission on Feb. 20 for all visitors.
The National Museum of the United States Army is also offering special events.
You can also watch a parade in Old Town Alexandria.
And, of course, you can visit the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.