Presidents' Day Dilemma

Whose birthday are we celebrating?

February 12, 2016
George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart

This year, Presidents Day is February 17, five days before George Washington's birthday. 

On Monday, the nation celebrates Presidents' Day. Or is it George Washington’s Birthday? What about Abraham Lincoln? Confused yet? Everyone agrees that Monday is a holiday, but what should we call it? Some government offices call it Presidents' Day. Others say the holiday is officially Washington's Birthday.

The History Behind Presidents' Day

George Washington was elected the country’s first President on April 30, 1789. Soon after, Americans began publicly celebrating his birthday.

Presidential historians say the actual date of George Washington's birth is February 11, 1732. A change in the calendar system 20 years later shifted all dates 11 days ahead, making Washington's birthday February 22. In 1879, Congress made Washington’s birthday an official federal holiday. It was the first federal holiday to celebrate an individual’s birth date.

In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act, which moved the holiday to the third Monday in February. The new law did not change the holiday's name. It was still called Washington's Birthday, even though some lawmakers wanted to call it Presidents' Day to include Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s actual birthday is February 12.

The Great Presidential Debate

Many people agree that the holiday should celebrate all past Presidents. They feel Lincoln should be honored for his role in preserving the nation during the Civil War and helping to free slaves. Others feel the holiday should only honor Washington, the country's first President. They say shifting the focus away from Washington would mean future generations of kids would not know about the Father of Our Country.

Laws have been introduced in Congress over the years to require use of the term "George Washington's Birthday," but none of those laws have passed. Meanwhile, many state governments and school districts now use the term “Presidents’ Day.” Many stores also use it to promote holiday sales.

Should the holiday honor Washington, Washington and Lincoln, or all past Presidents? Vote in the poll below.

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