Monday, February 22, 2016

Happy Birthday, Mr. Washington!

Today is the anniversary of George Washington's birth on February 22, 1732.  Most of the United States celebrates this birthday on the third Monday of February during the holiday known as President's Day.   But have you ever wondered how this holiday came to be?

In A Small Tangent...

The British Empire used the Julian calendar until 1752 when it switched to the Gregorian calendar.  Created in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar, this calendar contains the same basic structure as the Gregorian calendar with two major differences:

  1. The new year begins on March 1st instead of January 1st.
  2. It has a simple but inaccurate system for dealing with the extra bit of time accumulated each year.
The result is that George Washington was born on February 11, 1731 in the Julian calendar.  But February went from the last month of the year to the second month of the next year, George's birth year changed from 1731 to 1732, while the day changed from the 11th to the 22nd.

Back to 1800...

George Washington died on December 14, 1799.  The next February the entire nation mourned his loss, as most of the people saw Washington as the most important figure in the nation's history.  From there, it became an informal tradition to celebrate Washington's birthday until 1879 when an Act of Congress made February 22nd an official holiday for all federal offices in Washington D.C.  In 1886 Congress extended the holiday to all federal offices in the country.  Then on January 1, 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect, creating President's Day on the third Monday of February in an attempt to honor all presidents.

This holiday is based on George Washington's birthday but ironically will never fall on Washington's birthday.  You see, the latest day that President's Day can fall on is February 21st.


I understand that people want to celebrate more than George Washington's birthday; people want to celebrate Abraham Lincoln and other presidents, too.  And I don't have a problem, per se, with the holiday not falling on any particular president's birthday.   I even understand having the holiday fall on a specific Monday instead of a date.

But to base a holiday on Washington's birthday and then insure that it never falls on that day?


Anyway, Happy Birthday, Mr. Washington.

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