Americans observe Presidents’ Day on the third Monday in February. This federal holiday is formally called “Washington’s Birthday” because initially this holiday was created to celebrate the birth of America’s first president George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732. However, it is a common practice to celebrate the birthdays of both Presidents Lincoln and Washington on this day.
It has been said that the American people themselves forced Congress to establish the Washington’s Birthday holiday, which today is fixed by law on the third Monday of February. Nineteenth-century Americans commonly celebrated a holiday on February 22, the day of Washington’s birth. Apparently motivated by chronic employee absenteeism on that date, Congress in 1879 declared Washington’s Birthday a legal public holiday.
In 1971, Congress fixed Washington’s Birthday and a number of other holidays on Mondays, to create long holiday weekends. Because a number of states (but not the federal government) also officially celebrate the February 12 birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, many Americans have come to believe — incorrectly — that the third Monday of February is a consolidated “Presidents’ Day” honoring both Washington and Lincoln, and indeed all U.S. presidents. Many states designate the holiday as Presidents’ Day, and merchants offer Presidents’ Day sales.