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Presidents Day 2023: What's Open and Closed on Monday?

The surprising history behind this federal holiday.

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dan-avery-6315-1
Dan Avery Former Writer
Dan was a writer on CNET's How-To and Thought Leadership teams. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
Expertise Personal finance, government and policy, consumer affairs
Dan Avery
4 min read
Rendering of George Washington

Presidents Day can never fall on George Washington.

Engraving by Nathaniel Currier. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Today is Presidents Day, celebrated annually in the US on the third Monday in February. 

The holiday was first established in 1879 as Washington's Birthday to honor the first US president. It was commemorated on Washington's Feb. 22 birthday until 1971, when it was moved to give federal workers another three-day weekend. 

Section 6103 (a) of Title 5 of the United States Code, which classifies federal holidays, still lists the third Monday of the month as "Washington's Birthday." But after the date change, the day became more commonly referred to as "Presidents Day," 

Of course, depending on where you live, it could alternately be spelled "President's Day" (to acknowledge Washington) or Presidents' Day" (to include Abraham Lincoln, born on Feb. 12).  

Read on: The Best Presidents Day Sales to Shop Right Now

How did Washington's birthday become Presidents Day?

After George Washington's death in 1799, his Feb. 22 birthday became an annual day of remembrance. It wasn't made a federal holiday, however, until 1879 -- the first one to commemorate an individual. 

The holiday was only observed in Washington, DC until 1885, when it was expanded to include all government offices nationwide.

In the late 1960s, Senator Robert McClory, a Republican from Illinois, promoted the idea of moving Washington's Birthday and several other federal holidays to a predetermined slate of Mondays in order to reduce worker absenteeism.

"This will mean a great deal to our families and our children," President Lyndon Johnson said in a statement upon signing  Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968. "It will enable families who live some distance apart to spend more time together."

The act went into effect in 1971 and the day started to be known as Presidents Day.
According to the National Archives, Presidents Day will never fall on George Washington's actual birthday, since the latest the third Monday in February can fall is Feb. 21.

Portrait of George Washington

Although Presidents Day is more commonly used, the federal government still only recognizes "Washington's Birthday" as a holiday.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Washington's birthday wasn't always on Feb. 22

George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on Feb. 11, 1731. At the time, the colonies -- like the rest of the British Empire -- used the Julian calendar. In 1753, however, Parliament adopted the now-standard Gregorian calendar, which shifted everything by one year and 11 days.

Washington's birth date then became Feb. 22, 1732.

Read on: Labor Day: The Surprising Origins of the American Holiday

How do you spell Presidents Day, anyway?

According to the Associated Press style manual, it's "Presidents Day," with no punctuation. But the placement of the apostrophe really depends on which state you're in. 

  • Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota,Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Washington use Presidents' Day
  • In Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming, it's referred to as President's Day.
  • Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon use Presidents Day.

Those are hardly the only options, though:

  • It's George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday in Alabama.
  • In Arizona, it's Lincoln/Washington/Presidents' Day.
  • In Arkansas, it's called both George Washington's Birthday and Daisy Bates Day, to honor the late civil rights advocate.
  • Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York all refer to the day as Washington's Birthday.
  • Maine uses Washington's Birthday/President's Day.
  • Minnesota goes with Washington's and Lincoln's Birthday.
  • In Montana, it's Lincoln's and Washington's Birthday.
  • Ohio celebrates Washington–Lincoln Day.
  • In Utah, its referred to as Washington and Lincoln Day.
  • Virginia, where Washington lived, uses George Washington Day.

In California, the holiday is simply classified as "the third Monday in February," and Delaware doesn't observe Feb. 22 as a state holiday at all.

A historical reenactment from the Revolutionary on Presidents Day 2006

A historical reenactment from a Revolutionary War battle at Mount Vernon, Virginia, on Presidents Day 2006.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

What is open and closed on Presidents Day?

Federal government offices are closed on the third Monday in February, as are post offices, public libraries, US district courts and most state and local government offices and courts.

The stock market and most banks are closed on Presidents Day.

Public schools and universities are also closed, as are many private institutions.
Most stores and restaurants are open, however, and many shops and retail websites hold Presidents Day sales.

How is Presidents Day celebrated in the US?

Public talks, historical reenactments, exhibits and other events are often held on or before Feb. 22.   

According to the History Channel, several states require schools to teach about the accomplishments of the chief executive in the days leading up to Presidents Day.

Beginning in 1896, 100 years after it was first delivered, Washington's Farewell Address has been read aloud at the end of February each year by a member of the Senate. Last year, it was Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

In 2023, Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, will read the address on Feb. 27.