The Who2 Blog

The History of George Washington’s Birthday

Today is the 279th anniversary of George Washington‘s birth. He was born on this day in 1732 in Virginia. Or was he?

Well, not exactly. He was born 11 February 1731. At the time the colonies were using the Julian calendar. When Britain and its colonies switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, George Washington’s birthday became 22 February 1732.

The birthday of “the father of our country” has long been celebrated. During Washington’s presidency, elaborate parties were held to honor his birthday (a practice John Adams sneered at). Congress made Washington’s birthday a federal holiday in 1879, and for years different states had different rules, but in general the nation celebrated the birthday of our first president on 22 February.

Then Congress reworked the plan for three-day national holidays in 1968. The law when into effect in 1971 that proclaimed President’s Day as the third Monday in February.

Note that it was then called — and is now still officially called — President’s Day, as in the celebration of one president. In this case, it was meant to be President George Washington.

But legislators pushing for the change also liked the idea of celebrating the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, whose 12 February birthday is conveniently close to Washington’s.

These days it’s common for most people to think “Presidents’ Day” is in honor of both Lincoln and Washington, a notion perpetuated by merchants trying to get the most out of a three-day weekend.

Officially, however, President’s Day belongs to George Washington. Ironically, the third Monday in February will never fall on Washington’s birthday of 22 February. Many times, in fact, President’s Day falls closer to Lincoln’s birthday than to Washington’s.

Poor George — some honor! First they changed the stinking calendar, so that after his 20th birthday he had to start all over again with a new birthday. And now our nation honors him every year on a day guaranteed to not be his birthday!

(Image taken from Brad Neely’s Creased Comics Video, “George Washington”)

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