Monday, February 18, 2008

Lincoln Lost

Quiz Question: What is the official name of the holiday celebrated by our federal government today?

I bet you said, "President's Day."


There's a popular conception that Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's Birthday were merged into one holiday called "President's Day." Actually, Lincoln's Birthday was never a federal holiday, and, as the official list shows, today's holiday is simply called "Washington's Birthday." Lincoln's Birthday was once a holiday in some states (do click on that one, it's a cool link to a NYT article from 1906), but never at the federal level, although it is officially listed as a day when the U.S. flag should "especially" be displayed.

Thanks to poor statutory drafting, Washington's Birthday is celebrated on the third Monday in February, so that even when Washington's real birthday of February 22 falls on a Monday, it can never coincide with the holiday. When February 22 is a Monday, it is the fourth Monday in February, because in those years February 1, 8, and 15 are also Mondays.

In another blow to popular opinion, Washington was actually born on Feburary 11, 1731. What's up with that? The answer is that his birthday got changed to February 22 in 1752, when Britain finally adopted the Gregorian calendar. The calendar change required skipping ahead 11 days to catch up with the difference between the old and new calendars.

President's Day is said to be an invention of retailers who discovered that a generic holiday moved more merchandise than a holiday celebrating a specific President.

Just a little useful information from your friendly blogging law prof at George Washington University.

No comments: