George Washington Monument at Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

George Washington’s Birthday or Presidents Day? It Depends.

Presidents Day is officially recognized as Washington's Birthday by the federal government. But how come Washington's birthday isn't even celebrated on the actual date of his birth? And why does this holiday seem to have so many different names? Read on to learn this and more.

Variety in Punctuation and Name

Six presidents shown as engraving images used on dollar bills.
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The holiday is sometimes called Washington's Birthday and sometimes “Presidents' Day,” “Presidents Day,” or “President's Day,” depending on the intended celebration. States use over 15 different names for the holiday. Some states are officially celebrating multiple presidents, while others are only officially celebrating George Washington.

Let’s Have a Day Off

Presidents Day shown on calendar.
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Originally celebrated on George Washington's actual birthday (February 22), Presidents Day was moved to the third Monday of February to give federal employees a three-day weekend. The fact that the date is also close to Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12th gave rise to the celebration of Presidents Day.

Until the late 1980s, many businesses would close for the day, similar to Christmas Day.

Washington’s Birthday Will Never Again Be On His Birthday

February calendar page with 22nd circles and image of George Washington in background.
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In 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day to permanently fall on Mondays. For Washington’s Birthday, they chose the third Monday in February.

Ironically this means that the official celebration of his birthday will never be on February 22nd (his birthday), because the third Monday in February can never be later than February 21st.

Eat a Cherry Pie for Tradition

Delicious looking Homemade Cherry Pie.
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The holiday is associated with cherry pie, stemming from the legendary tale of Washington chopping down a cherry tree.

The Day Also Commemorates the Purple Heart Medal

Purple heart medal hanging in front of U.S. flag.
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The holiday also honors Washington's creation of the Badge of Military Merit, which was the precursor to the Purple Heart.

A Senate Tradition Started During the Civil War

Petro Poroshenko to the Joint Session of the United States Congress.
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Since 1862, the U.S. Senate has had a tradition of reading George Washington's Farewell Address on his birthday. This began during the Civil War when Philadelphia residents signed a petition asking for the address to be read to commemorate Washington’s birth.

George Washington's Birth Date Changed 

Word or phrase Julian calendar in a dictionary.
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Washington was born on February 11, 1731, according to the Julian Calendar then in use. He changed it to February 22, 1732, to match the New Style Gregorian date after calendar reforms.

Not a Holiday in Every State

Mount Rushmore with sunset behind.
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Not all states observe this day as a state holiday. States have the liberty to choose their own date and manner of celebrating the holiday, and some have chosen not to celebrate it at all. Many states have other days entirely for celebrating presidents.

A Month Long Celebration 

front of Alexandria city hall with fountains and a U.S. flag hanging on the front.
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Washington's hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, holds events throughout February, including a parade that they claim is the nation's longest-running and largest George Washington Birthday parade.

Georgefest Has Been Celebrating Washington for 123 Years

George Washington on a dollar bill.
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Eustice Florida holds an annual celebration of George Washington on the last weekend in February. GeorgeFest has been held since 1902 making it the longest-running celebration of its kind.

Sources: Wikipedia and National Archives.

Author: Alissa Zorn

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