Why We Celebrate George Washington's Birthday On A Different Day Every Year

Have you ever wondered why Presidents Day is on the day that it is? It's a surprisingly complicated story. Officially known as Washington Day, Presidents Day was designed to celebrate America's first commander-in-chief (via Mental Floss). George Washington was one of America's best-known and best-liked presidents, and was a general in the colonial armies during the American Revolution (via Britannica). His leadership during the war was seen as essential to the success of colonial forces, as Washington helped originate the successful military strategy of "harassing" British forces (via The White House).

After America won its independence, Washington was elected the nation's first president. He focused on foreign policy during his time in office, helping to guide the U.S. through the gauntlet of the French Revolution. He also urged against the creation of a two-party system, something he touched upon in his Farewell Address when he retired after eight years in office. Many historians consider Washington's warnings to be prescient of the flaws in the two-party system which would come to be standard in American politics (via the Boston Globe).

The first celebration of Washington Day

When Washington Day was first celebrated in the 1880s, it was pegged to Washington's birthday: February 22 (via Britannica). However, almost 100 years later, in 1968, this tradition was changed after the passing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill. This bill moved multiple holidays that were previously pegged to exact dates so that they rested on Mondays instead. The change was intended to introduce more three-day weekends into the year. Washington Day was one of the holidays affected, with its official date moving from February 22 to the third Monday of February. The change wasn't universally popular, but it was appreciated by some.

At the same time, a suggestion was made to change the name of the holiday to Presidents Day. This shift intended to help the holiday recognize not only George Washington, but also Abraham Lincoln, another of the most influential presidents in American history. Despite his huge impact on American history, Lincoln is not recognized by any federal holidays, and many states do not recognize holidays for him either. However, the request to change the name was declined.

The move to a modern Presidents Day

But while Congress elected to keep the original holiday name, Washington Day, the public disagreed (via Britannica). Many people believed the holiday was moved because Congress approved of the change, according to History. As a result, enough people had started calling the holiday "Presidents Day" that the name took off. Since then, some states have officially renamed the day Presidents Day, while others have come up with different labels (via Mental Floss). In Alabama, the third Monday in March is "Washington and Jefferson Day," eschewing the 16th president entirely.

Additionally, other lawmakers have made attempts since the 1960s to move the date of Presidents Day back. Former U.S. Representative Frank Wolf has made multiple attempts to move the date of Washington Day back to February 22, saying that moving the date back would make the holiday more about Washington and less about relaxing. But as of yet, nobody — Wolf or otherwise — has been successful.