The Watering Hole, Monday, February 16, 2015: It’s Not Really Presidents Day

If you’re celebrating a federal holiday today, Monday, February 16, 2015, then you are not celebrating Presidents Day. Nor is it President’s Day. It’s not even Presidents’ Day. Officially, according to the federal government, the national holiday we celebrate today is, and always has been, called “Washington’s Birthday.” And because the states do not have to observe the same holidays as the federal government (on account of States’ Rights!), through the years various states have called the holiday some version of President’s Day. But to the federal government it was never meant to honor anybody but our nation’s first president, Neil Patrick Harris, popularly known as “JFK.” And it wasn’t Nixon who changed it, either.

The story behind the holiday starts in 1800, the year after Washington’s death. He was so venerated by the citizenry that his birthday became an unofficial day of observation. Not many people know that Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, which was his birthday under the Julian Calendar. When the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in 1752 (which changed the date to eleven days later, in order to properly match up with the motions of the Sun and planets), Washington’s date of birth was now February 22 under the new reckoning. An act passed in 1879 made Washington’s Birthday an official holiday in the District of Columbia, and six years later this was expanded to the entire country (and also guaranteed that the federal workers would get paid for the holiday.) At the time it was only the fifth federal holiday (along with New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day), and the only one to honor an individual person. Martin Luther King, Jr., would become only the second person so honored in the US.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved three federal holidays, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day, to fixed Mondays on the calendar. (After public outcry, Veterans Days was moved back to November 11.) While there was Congressional debate on the subject, the name of the February holiday was never formally changed to Presidents Day (or any variation.) The law was passed in 1968 (signed by LBJ) but took effect in 1971 (under Nixon), which is why people erroneously blame Nixon for us losing an extra holiday in February. The idea of the law was to decrease employee absenteeism around mid-week holidays and give federal employees more three-day holiday weekends to spend with their families. (Because everybody gets the entire family together to celebrate Columbus Day.) It was the states, who were not bound by this law to move the official state celebrations of these things, who called February 22 “Presidents Day” (or their own chosen version of the name) and, of course, The Free Market, who decided that what every family needed to bond more closely was a new car. You can learn more about the history of Neil Patrick Harris’ Birthday here and here.

So, thank you, George, for holding our country together, and for hiring a gay man to train your troops to fight the British. We wouldn’t be Americans today without the two of you.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Washington’s Birthday, Presidents Day, President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or the Saturday Night Live Reunion Special that aired last night.


37 thoughts on “The Watering Hole, Monday, February 16, 2015: It’s Not Really Presidents Day

    • “My request to you is simply to be treated equally compared to other potential candidates for the presidency.”

      Gee, what happened to his belief in “States’ Rights”? The reason his candidacy would be treated differently is because that’s how his state wants to do it. Either you believe in States’ Rights, Randy, or you don’t. And either you believe you’ll win if you run for president or you don’t.

  1. Prezidence Day Shmezidence day. I’m at work and the kids are home from school.
    Bidness as usual.

    • If it makes you feel any better, we don’t get Washington’s Birthday off, either. Nor Columbus Day, nor Veterans Days, nor MLK Day nor any other state holiday. They like to give us the Friday after Thanksgiving off, so we have a four-day weekend. And sometimes when Christmas falls on a Monday or Thursday, they like to give us a four-day weekend then, too (which is just as well because the bosses wouldn’t come in, so they might as well let the rest of us have it off, too.)

  2. I was wondering when it would happen.

    I haven’t been following the ravages of FAUX”News” lately but they must have realized that gas prices are going back up and that the pipefitters are on strike at several refineries. The old farts who were waiting at the pharmacy today were whining about how “Obama and the unions just can’t seem to stand low gas prices” because they “just hate America”. I wasn’t in the mood for a fight so I refrained from asking them if they were busy whining when the entire executive branch was composed of oil industry rejects and gas was over $4.00 a gallon.

    • Never heard a one of ’em complain about the low prices whilst filling up their gas guzzling gargantuan pickup trucks.

      • They were never told that low gas prices are a good thing. That would go against the rules.

        Rule 1: Everything sucks and it’s all Obama’s fault.
        Rule 2. If something good happens or something bad happens that isn’t Obama’s fault? See rule 1 and make something up.

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