We’d like to wish you a happy Presidents Day today, which for many means checking out car deals or home furnishing sales, hitting the slopes or enjoying a day off from work or classes.
Yes, we’d like to wish you a happy Presidents Day — but in reality, we can’t.
What in the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln is going on?
Well, “Presidents Day” has become an informal colloquialism for the federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of each February, which officially is titled “Washington’s Birthday.”
Here locally, state law 63G-1-301 designates the holiday as “Washington and Lincoln Day,” with Utah joining a handful of other states such as Colorado, Ohio, Montana and Arizona to honor two of the country’s most recognized and revered presidents.
With Washington’s birthdate being Feb. 22 and Lincoln’s Feb. 12, many may think the February holiday was created to commemorate both. But the designation started with Washington; Lincoln’s birthday was never a federal holiday, although many states celebrated it as such in the past, with Illinois, Connecticut, Missouri and New York still doing so.
Americans were celebrating Washington’s birthdate long before Congress designated Feb. 22 as a District of Columbia holiday in 1879. Six years later, it was recognized as a federal holiday, along with Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day and New Year’s Day.
In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved Washington’s Birthday — along with Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day (which later returned to its original Nov. 11 date) — to designated Mondays to provide federal employees with several guaranteed three-day weekends each year.
Ironically, neither Washington’s birthday nor Lincoln’s will ever fall on that third-Monday-in-February date. Nor will the birthdays of the other two former presidents born in February — William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan.
Some states follow the national lead in naming their state holiday after Washington. Alabama’s day honors Washington and fellow Founding Father President Thomas Jefferson, while Arkansas’ day salutes Washington and civil rights advocate Daisy Gatson Bates.
A number of states have adjusted their annual February holiday as a day to honor all U.S. presidents. However, some spell it Presidents Day, others as Presidents’ Day and even some as President’s Day.
And a few states commemorate presidential birthdates on other days throughout the calendar, mostly in conjunction with Thanksgiving and Christmas, to give state employees a longer holiday break.
In 2015, New Mexico will celebrate Presidents Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving; Indiana will commemorate Washington’s birthdate on Dec. 24 and Lincoln’s the day after Thanksgiving; and Georgia will honor Washington with a Dec. 26 holiday and Confederate general Robert E. Lee — and not Lincoln — with the day-after-Thanksgiving date.
So, whether you’re retailing, recreating, relaxing or in your everyday routine, enjoy a slice of birthday cake and blow out a candle in tribute of Washington and Lincoln … and, understandably so, for all U.S. presidents and the office they’ve held.