It’s in the name: Presidents Day is one of those relatively self-explanatory holidays devoted to honoring American chiefs of state.
What began as a celebration of George Washington’s birthday as the first president of the United States evolved over time to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s February birthday, as well.
Washington was born on February 22, 1732 in Virginia. He dabbled in surveyor’s work before rising to military prominence during the the French and Indian War. His combat experienced thus established, he was unanimously appointed to commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775 when the American Revolutionary War broke out. After famously leading his beleaguered troops across the Delaware River for a surprise attack and forcing the surrender of Britain to his army, Washington was posthumously declared a six-star general as a way of ensuring he would forever outrank all future military leaders.
After the war, he oversaw the country’s signing of its early founding documents and served two four-year terms from 1789 to 1797 as president.
After abdicating his seat, for which he received much respect and which set the foundation for the concept of term limits, 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. (Mount Vernon offers limited free admission for the holiday.)
The celebration of his birthday as a holiday wasn’t until the 1870s, decades after another historic president, Abraham Lincoln, was born on Feb 12.
Though the day has gone to include celebrations of all U.S. presidents, the Office of Personnel Management and other official government documents call it “Washington’s Birthday,” according to law.
But this year, as in subsequent years, the day has been fixed on a Monday, regardless of whether it falls on Washington’s actual date of birth or not. That’s because in the 1960s, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to make federal holidays on Mondays as a way to improve morale for federal workers.
Most of the 11 federal holidays in 2024 will on a Monday.
This year, Presidents Day is on Monday, Feb. 19. 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 Monday, May 27, 2024.
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.