Today is not Presidents Day. So let's all stop pretending it is.

Happy George Washington's Birthday! Presidents Day is not a federal holiday. Even if the makers of the SAT think it is. 

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    A statue of George Washington in the US Capitol building in Washington in October, 2013.
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Today is not “President’s Day.” Presidents’ Day is not a federal holiday. Officially, Feb. 15, 2016 is George Washington’s Birthday. Presidents Day is a myth.

(Note to editor: The wandering apostrophe in the above paragraph is intentional. It’s supposed to symbolize the fact that Presidents Day partisans can’t even agree on how the day’s name is spelled.)

Sure, some states have voted to recognize today with the “P” word. But most of them haven’t. And Washington takes the lead in the United States, holiday-wise. Federal law determines when federal workers get a three-day weekend, and the rest of the country follows suit. That makes the whole thing more efficient.

So why do all the mattress stores advertise Presidents Day sales instead of George Washington Birthday blowouts? Why does the College Board – the organization that runs the SATs, and thus should know better – post #PresidentsDay trivia on its social media feeds

It’s a herd mentality. That’s all we can think of.

But here is the bitter truth: Washington’s Birthday has been a US holiday since 1886.

In the late 1960s, Congress decided it was time to move all US holidays around, so as to maximize three-day weekend-buying and driving and grilling time. Washington’s Birthday got thrown into the mix. Some states thought it would be a great idea to take the existing GWB, move it to late February, add Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, and make it a “President’s Day” to honor Old Abe as well as the Father of Our Country.

Illinois loved the move. Virginia did not. Virginia lawmakers moved to protect the singularity of the day for Washington. They prevailed.

Don’t believe it? Take a look at the federal Office of Personnel Management official list of holidays for 2016. See? That’s what it says right there for today – “Monday February 15*, Washington’s Birthday.” 

That asterisk links to an explanation on the bottom of the page. We’ll quote it in full to make the point.

*This holiday is designated as ‘Washington’s Birthday’ in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in law.

“Names designated in law” – take that, College Board. Hope this isn’t an SAT question. If it is, you’re looking for an answer that’s wrong.

 
 
 

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