February 20th, 2012
04:29 PM ET
While most people celebrate birthdays with a few balloons, some cake, and, if they’re lucky, presents, America’s leaders tend to celebrate with a bit more flair. Barack Obama, for example, rang in the big 5-0 with celebrity friends like Jay-Z and Stevie Wonder. Back in 1962, Marilyn Monroe serenaded John F. Kennedy with a seductive song that burned its way into American history. Even George H. W. Bush took a step toward making presidential birthday history when he stepped off a plane (aka skydived) in honor of his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays.
George Washington, however, surpasses them all, as he’s the only president with an entire federal holiday dedicated to his memory.
Now before you race to your web browser and send us a Wikipedia link that says the holiday is actually called “President’s Day,” we encourage you to take a closer look. Despite the promotional emails that have exploded into your inboxes this morning from car dealerships, mattress stores and electronic giants like Best Buy, today is not President’s Day. In fact, it’s not even Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (which, by the way, passed by last week on the 12th).
Brace yourself, because today’s legal name is “Washington’s Birthday.”
At least that’s what the U.S. Office of Personnel Management says, anyway.
So why does everyone refer to it as President’s Day? Some people point the finger at the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. Joining the ranks of other three-day weekend holidays like “Memorial Day” and “Veterans’ Day,” “Washington’s Birthday,” was moved from the 22nd (his actual birthday) to the third Monday in February. With the date change, the presidential holiday now fell between Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays, causing many to believe the move was made to honor them both.
Others fault the advertising industry. For retailers who salivate after catchy phrases and slogans, “President’s Day Sale!” is just another weekend to encourage consumers to open their wallets and drop hundreds – if not thousands – on fancier cars or bigger TVs.
But like those expensive purchases you made online earlier today, it comes at a price. While “Martin Luther King’s Birthday” – another victim of the 1968 act – falls on a day that is not his actual birthday (January 15), the date change does not affect the integrity of the man behind the namesake. The January holiday still celebrates the civil rights movement and the legacy of the man behind it. “Washington’s Birthday,” however, has become just another day off from work spent lounging on the couch or wandering through the mall.
By reducing it to Presidents Day instead of “Washington’s Birthday” the nation no longer recognizes and honors the nation’s first president, his history and his greatest achievement: serving as the first president of the United State of America.
In an effort to rectify this, check out our photo gallery above and tell us how you’re honoring America’s first founding father.