Presidents Day 2013 falls on Monday, Feb. 18—a date workers around the country are undoubtedly looking forward to. Officially called Washington’s Birthday, in honor of George Washington, the nation’s first president, the holiday falls each year on the third Monday in February, giving millions of folks a much-needed midwinter three-day weekend. With federal offices and many private businesses closed, Americans are free to spend time at the mall, as Presidents Day—the term used by most people—has become a major shopping day.
Presidents Day—or Presidents’ Day, as it’s also called—dates back to 1879, when the U.S. Congress established Washington’s Birthday as a holiday in the District of Columbia. It became a federal holiday in 1885, and while it was originally held on George Washington’s actual birthday, Feb. 22, it was changed in 1971, as per the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, a bill designed to create more three-day weekends.
That piece of legislation—a rare instance of Congress actually doing something for the good of the masses—made Washington’s Birthday the third Monday of February, meaning that the holiday can fall anywhere between Feb. 15 and 21. That Washington’s Birthday never falls on Washington’s actual birthday was apparently of little concern to lawmakers, who presumably had more important things to worry about.
Before 1971, some had sought to create a separate Presidents Day to honor the highest office in the land. Expanding the holiday’s focus makes particular sense, some argue, because Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is Feb. 12, ten days before Washington’s. While Congress has never officially changed Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day, the latter has become the accepted name of the holiday. Some states have adopted the new name, and some have even rewritten their laws to honor not just Washington, but also Lincoln and other figures.
Either way, Presidents Day 2013, like every Presidents Day in recent memory, is a chance to kick back and get some sweet deals on consumer goods, chief among them cars. What’s more American than that?