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Why our forecasts say “Washington’s Birthday” instead of “Presidents Day”

Friday, February 18th, 2011 4:32pm MST
George Washington

Did you know there is no such holiday as "Presidents Day?" The holiday is technically titled "Washington's Birthday" per Section 6103 (a) of Title 5 of the United States Code.

You may have noticed that our forecasts leading up to Monday’s holiday say “Washington’s Birthday” instead of “Presidents Day.”  Why is that?  Because, believe it or not, there is no Federal holiday called Presidents Day.

You read that right.  If you don’t believe us, check out official calendar from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.   As it turns out the third Monday of every February, while we commonly refer to it as Presidents Day, is by U.S. Code officially titled Washington’s Birthday.

The holiday began with an Act of Congress in 1880 and was for government offices in Washington DC.  It was expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices and was celebrated on George Washington’s actual birthday of February 22.

Then, in 1971 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted the celebration to the third Monday of each February so now the date can range anywhere from the 15th to the 21st.  An early draft of that act would have renamed the holiday to Presidents Day but it failed in a Congressional committee in 1968.

So there you have it.  When someone says something about Monday’s holiday being Presidents Day, you can correct them and tell them there is no such holiday.

From the National Weather Service:

Q. Why did the National Weather Service (NWS) change its weather forecast references from Presidents Day to Washington’s Birthday in 2011?

A.  Weather forecast references were changed because the holiday is officially 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.  Although other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is NWS policy to refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.

Q. Wasn’t the holiday changed to Presidents Day when it was established by Congress to be observed on the third Monday in February?

A. No.  The effort to rename the holiday Presidents Day, intended to honor the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln, failed in Congressional committee.  The bill, which was then signed into law on June 28, 1968, specified that the Federal holiday would retain the name Washington’s Birthday. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of January 1, 1971, established its observance on the third Monday in February.

Q. What changes did the NWS implement to make this change?

A. The NWS changed the software on all its Internet web pages and at all local Weather Forecast Offices so that forecasts which include Washington’s Birthday will show the officially designated name for the holiday this year and into the future.

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