National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

This time of year, we tend to receive several inquiries regarding the use of the term "Washington's Birthday" on our forecast pages and on NOAA Weather Radio. The general theme of these inquiries is that the proper terminology for the 3rd Monday of February should be "Presidents Day," as George Washington's birthday is on the 22nd. 

Why do we use this reference? Contrary to popular belief, there actually is no Federal holiday called "Presidents Day."

The holiday for the 3rd Monday of February is officially designated as "Washington's Birthday" in Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code. This is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Although other institutions such as state and local governments may use other names, it is NWS policy to refer to holidays by the names designated in the law. 

Seeds of the idea of a "Presidents Day" date back as early as the 1950's, in a plan supported by the National Association of Travel Organizations. It found sporadic success in local areas, but was not adopted over a widespread area at the time. In 1968, Congress began to debate legislation in the form of the "Uniform Monday Holiday Act," which included moving the observed date of Washington's birthday from the 22nd to the 3rd Monday of February. This was signed into law on June 28, but did not take effect until January 1, 1971. During the early part of the debate, there was a proposal to change the name to "Presidents Day", but this part of the proposal did not pass. This particular bill is also the one that shifted the observance of Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday of May, and Columbus Day from October 12th to the 2nd Monday of October. 

Ironically, because of the change, it is not possible for the observance of Washington's birthday to actually be on the Federal holiday, since the 3rd Monday of February can fall no later than the 21st.

Here is the text of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act:

Uniform Holidays Act of 1968, PL90-363