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What do we celebrate in February?

Drawing of a young woman presenting portraits of Washington and Lincoln.

On the third Monday in February, dating back to 1885, we celebrate a federal holiday called ‘Washington’s Birthday’.  Many people refer to the day as ‘President’s Day’, but that is not the official name.

The change came about in 1971 when President Nixon moved some holidays to Mondays so people could enjoy a long weekend.  Thus, Washington’s Birthday was moved from his actual birthday on February 22.

Some people believe they are celebrating the combined birthdays of Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Washington (Feb. 22).  Still others think they are honoring all United States presidents on that day.

There are many federal and state holidays that can differ during the year.  Some states celebrate Lincoln and Washington as separate holidays and then there are states that don’t recognize either.  Each state can designate which federal holiday to observe and which federal holiday not to observe.

This year Indiana has chosen to celebrate Washington’s Birthday on December 26 and Lincoln’s Birthday on November 24.  The governor may change the observance of any legal holiday except Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and these dates have been chosen in recent years to give employers the option to give more time off at home during the winter holidays.

So as you see, there is still quite a bit of confusion and discrepancy surrounding February 22.  One thing remains true whether you refer to it as Washington’s Birthday, President’s Day or nothing at all: it’s the day to honor one of the great men in United States history.

For more information about this holiday, visit the President’s Day website at

Image: Closeup of “Columbia’s noblest sons,” by Kimmel & Forster, lithographer, c1865. Via Library of Congress.