President’s Day or Washington’s Birthday?

Actually, it’s neither. The holiday, created by the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968, and celebrated on the third Monday in February, is officially named Washington’s Birthday. George Washington’s birthday, however, is February 22, and it is impossible for the date of the third Monday to be any later than February 21, meaning Washington’s Birthday will never actually fall on his birthday. In 1971, President Richard Nixon proclaimed the holiday “President’s Day,” in order to honor all the past presidents of the United States, but his proclamation did not carry the same weight as an Executive Order so the name was never officially changed, although it is popularly used.


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Whether it is called President’s Day or Washington’s Birthday it is a federal holiday, meaning most federal employees get a three-day weekend and most offices of the federal government are closed. This includes the Post Office and the Internal Revenue Service. There are only 10 federal holidays set by law. They are: New Year’s Day (January 1), Martin Luther King’s Birthday (third Monday in January), Washington’s Birthday (third Monday in February), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (first Monday in September), Columbus Day (second Monday in October), Veteran’s Day (November 11), Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November) and Christmas Day (December 25).

Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code specifies holidays for federal employees but does not apply to state or local government employees or to private employers. Many businesses, as well as state and local governments, were closed on the third Monday in February until the late 1980’s. Throughout the 1990’s and to the present day, the number of employers outside the federal government observing the President’s Day holiday with a three-day weekend has steadily declined. This decline is attributed, in part, to an increase in the number of state and local governments and private employers celebrating Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

A review of the news over the weekend indicates that many offices of state and local governments will also be closed Monday. So will the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, NASDAQ, and the Chicago Board of Trade.

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