President's Letter

Timothy P. Villegas, M.D.

Timothy P. Villegas, M.D. | President's Letter

Today, as I write this, it is the third Monday in February, which is commonly known as Presidents Day. It is interesting to know that the federal government actually recognizes this day as "Washington's Birthday".

President George Washington's birthday was February 22nd, and for many years following his death this day was celebrated around the country to honor his legacy. In 1885, congress finally acted to officially recognize this date as a national holiday. At the time, this was only the fifth national holiday in addition to Christmas, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Independence Day, and the first one to honor an individual.

For decades, Washington's birthday was celebrated on February 22nd, but in 1971 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was implemented. The goal of this bill was to give the workforce more three-day weekends rather than to have holidays fall on different days of the week each year. Other holidays that also moved to fixed Mondays were Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans' Day (which later moved back to November 11th).

So, if the holiday is officially called Washington's Birthday, why do most Americans know it as Presidents Day? While it is true that Abraham Lincoln also had his birthday in February, most argue that this change was mainly a result of commercialization. Once the day became fixed on a Monday, marketers saw this as another opportunity to maximize three-day weekend sales and "Presidents Day" likely seemed a better hook. Over the next few decades, most states also officially changed the name of the holiday to Presidents Day. Today, 28 states recognize Presidents Day, 12 states (including Georgia) call it Washington's Birthday, and 9 states do not recognize the holiday at all. It is curious that Alabama is the only state that calls the holiday "Washington/Jefferson Day" (it appears the state still holds a grudge against Lincoln).

Well, now you know that the Presidents Day holiday is more than just the year's best mattress sale. Enjoy your three-day weekend!