What's in a name? Why states differ on how (and when) to celebrate Presidents Day. (2024)

Clare MulroyUSA TODAY

Presidents Day is on Feb. 19 this year, and for many people that means a long, three-day weekend. But that's not true for everyone. Some across the United States can't agreeon when to celebrate it – oreven how to spell it.

In Alabama, it's"George Washington & Thomas Jefferson's Birthday." In Arkansas, you're celebrating"George Washington and Daisy Gatson Bates Day."

If you live in Georgia or Indianayou won't be observing Presidents' Day until December. For New Mexico, that date is just after Thanksgiving.

So why the discrepancies? We called local government offices and probed historians to find out:

Is it Presidents’, President’s or Presidents Day?

The correct spelling of "Presidents Day" is up for debate, but the federal government officially calls it Washington's Birthday.

If you're talking about a holiday that celebrates multiple past Presidents, the correct phrase in English would be "Presidents' Day." If you're in favor of a day celebrating just Washington, it would be "President's Day," right? But The Associated Press Stylebook calls it "Presidents Day."

Washington's Birthday holiday technically celebrates the birth of George Washington and, in some states Abraham Lincoln. But other presidents are regularly honored alongside them. The George & Barbara Bush Foundation posted a video honoring the late George H.W. Bush for Presidents’ Day, and there are articleshighlightingthe accomplishments of former President Barack Obama for the holiday. In 2015, the Obama White House celebrated Presidents’ Day by revamping all past presidential bios. And in 2013, Obama tweeted using the plural possessive spelling of the holiday.

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What's it called in each state?

Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Washington list the holiday as “Presidents’ Day” on their state government calendars.

Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia and Wyoming have it written as “President’s Day.”

Several government sites from Minnesota, Pennsylvania and South Dakota write it as “Presidents Day."

Five states use a combination, like "Lincoln/Washington/President’s Day" in Arizona and "Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthdays" in Montana. Maine, South Carolina and Utah use similar names.

Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia and the District of Columbia use the federal name, Washington’s Birthday.

Nine states don’t observe the holiday at all. You won’t find the February long weekendin Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island or Wisconsin.

These states aren't the only ones looking to give the holiday the boot.In a 2012 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 35% of surveyed Americans said they’d choose to get rid of Presidents’ Day over other holidays like Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

What's in a name?

George Washington's birthday was originally celebrated on the actual date of the first president's birthday, Feb. 22.When the Uniform Holiday Bill was signed in 1968, it moved some federal holidays to Mondays to prevent midweek shutdowns and give families longer weekends.

Since then, it has been celebrated on the third Monday of February. Around this time, the country also began using the holiday to honor not only Washington but also Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was Feb. 12.

Republican Rep. Robert McClory spearheaded the bill, which caused outrage from some who objected to changing the date we celebrate Washington’s birthday.

"We are not changing George Washington's birthday,” McClorysaid.“We would make George Washington's birthday more meaningful to many more people by having it observed on a Monday."

He also proposed changing the name to "Presidents’ Day" so Washington's and Lincoln’s birthdays could share the holiday.

Many opposed this as well, and the measure failed to pass.Rep. Dan Heflin Kuykendall, R-Tenn., said, "If we do this, 10 years from now our schoolchildren will not know or care when George Washington was born. They will know that in the middle of February they will have a 3-day weekend for some reason.”

Jefferson joins the holiday in Alabama

While some states have added Lincoln's birthday into the official holiday name, other states celebrate it separately.Lincoln's adopted home state of Illinois, as well as Missouri, New York and Connecticutobserve his birthday on the weekday closest to the actual date, Feb. 12.

In Alabama, however, Thomas Jefferson's birthday is also celebrated in February with Washington's on "George Washington and Thomas Jefferson's birthdays."But Jefferson's birthday is not even in February– he was born on April 13.

According to Carlie Burkett, a reference archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives & History, Jefferson's birthday was celebrated in April from1907 until 1991 when it was combined with Washington's Birthday in February.

"It appears that that's just to reduce the number of state holidays," Burkett says.

Jefferson's connection to the state is not completely clear, though he did appoint the second governor of the Mississippi Territory and Alabama's first federal judge, according to documents from ADAH.

According to Matthew Dennis, a University of Oregon professor whose work chronicles American identity, Jefferson himself actuallypreferred Inauguration Day, the honoring of "the office, not its occupier," to celebrating Washington's Birthday."Jefferson himself, in his own time, sought to deflate the observation of Washington’s Birthday, believing that idolizing particular men, even the iconic Washington,was unworthy of a democracy," Dennis told USA TODAY in an email.

So why not just have separate holidays to celebrate each? It's one way to prevent expanding the calendar, Dennis said."Doubling up saves money while also satisfying a social and political responsibility to mark or remember," Dennis says.

Some states honor Washington's birthday later in the year

According to Nora Meyers Sackett, press secretary for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state observes Presidents Day the day after Thanksgiving "presumably to more easily allow state employees to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their families."

Georgia's rationale for observing the holiday in December is the same.

"The state opts to observe Washington’s birthday the day following Christmas to allow state employees to have that time with their loved ones," Shaistha Begum, communications director for the Department of Administrative Services, told USA TODAY in an email. "The state has done this with other holidays as well, including the day after Thanksgiving."

Indiana also observes Washington's birthday the day after Christmas. A1972 state law allows the governor to move the observance of state holidays to any other day of the year with the exception of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. A State Personnel Department spokesperson confirmed to IndyStarthat Washington and Lincoln's birthdays have been observed near Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays since 1979.

Why does Daisy Gatson Bates share the day?

Arkansas established Daisy Gatson Bates Day as an official state holiday in 2001. Bates was a prominent civil rights activist in Arkansas and was a personal advocate to the Little Rock Nine who became the first Black students to attend an all-white high school. Bates and her husband also started the Arkansas State Press, a weekly paper that supported civil rights.

The bill, spearheaded by former Rep. Tracy Steele, was originally meant to share the third Monday in January– Martin Luther KingJr. Day.It was later amended to George Washington's Birthday in February, according to documents provided by the Arkansas State Archives department.

A 2001 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article pointed to two reasons behind the date: February being Black History Month, and, as Steele said, "During a time of fiscal conservatism, we found a way to honor Daisy Bates that wouldn't cost the state anything."

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What's in a name? Why states differ on how (and when) to celebrate Presidents Day. (2024)

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