Presidents Day? No way!

PresidentsDayNoWay
It’s mine, Abe. All mine. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

 

By Rita Van Fleet

Writing can be confusing. When writing for the social sciences or education, the standard reference is the Publication Manual for the American Psychological Association. The standard for writing fiction is specific to the publishing house, usually in some combination with The Chicago Manual of Style. The standard for journalism is the Associated Press Stylebook. Making the matter even more confusing is that they usually change annually.

For example, Presidents Day has three possible punctuations—President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and Presidents Day. The Chicago Manual of Style uses the possessive plural—Presidents’ Day. The AP Stylebook uses the plural with no possessive—Presidents Day.

The holiday, though colloquially called Presidents’ Day, is officially known as Washington’s Birthday. The holiday was legally enacted by Congress in 1879 as Washington’s Birthday and has never officially changed. The holiday was celebrated on February 22, Washington’s birthday, though George was one of those unfortunates whose date of birth changed by eleven days when the British Empire abandoned the Julian calendar and adopted the more accurate Gregorian calendar in 1752.

In the early 1970s, the holiday date was changed by law to the Monday between February 15 and 21, as a part of the Uniform Holiday Monday Act, a change designed to give federal workers long weekends throughout the year. The move to honor others, such as Lincoln, failed at the federal level. So, Washington’s Birthday it is—or maybe not.

The states have enacted various laws applying to the holiday. Most of the states celebrate the federal holiday as President’s or Presidents’ Day. Virginia, Illinois, Iowa and New York celebrate Washington’s Birthday. Montana, Colorado, Ohio, Utah, and Minnesota honor Washington and Lincoln. Alabama celebrates Washington’s and Jefferson’s Birthdays and Arkansas celebrates Washington’s Birthday and honors Daisy Gatson Bates who was a prominent civil rights leader.

Several states honor presidents with official state holidays that do not fall on the traditional day. Massachusetts celebrates Washington’s Birthday, then holds a Presidents Day celebration on May 29. New Mexico observes Presidents’ Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. With some annual adjustments, Indiana observes Washington’s Birthday and Georgia observes Presidents’ Day on Christmas Eve. (See the full list of holidays designated by Governor Nathan Deal here) Whatever the holiday is called or when it is celebrated, the federal holiday provides merchants with a prime opportunity for sales.

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