George Washington’s Birthday is celebrated as a federal holiday on the third Monday in February. It is one of eleven permanent holidays established by Congress.
When the Julian calendar was being used, George Washington was accordingly born in Virginia on February 11, 1731. In 1752, however, Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar which moved Washington’s birthday a year and 11 days to February 22, 1732.
At the recommendation of the Committee, chaired by Henry Clay of the Senate and Philemon Thomas of the House, Congress adjourned on February 22, 1832, out of respect for Washington’s memory and in commemoration of his birth.
Washington’s Birthday still, though, did not become a legal holiday until January 31, 1879, when Congress added February 22nd to the list of holidays to be observed by federal employees in the District of Columbia.
Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on February 22nd until well into the 20th Century. However, in 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.”
One of the provisions of this act changed the observance of Washington’s Birthday from February 22nd to the third Monday in February. Ironically, this guaranteed that the holiday would never be celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, as the third Monday in February cannot fall any later than February 21.
Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to “President’s Day.”