It’s that time of year again.

Advertisers, marketers, banks, the news media, public officials and others combine to misinform the American public that the federal holiday that occurs on the third Monday of February is named Presidents Day.

Since the 19th Century, the federal holiday observed in February has always been George Washington’s Birthday. It was never changed. It has been an advertising custom since the 1970s to call the holiday Presidents Day. Several presidents, including the current one, have mistakenly called the holiday Presidents Day.

Since Congress made the Washington’s Birthday holiday one of the federal holidays always observed on a Monday, several states—perhaps 15 or 20—have designated their state holiday observed on the same day as Presidents Day.  Probably a good number of them did so because they mistakenly believed that the federal holiday had been changed to Presidents Day.

In some of the states, the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln are observed on that day.  Lincoln’s birthday has never been a federal holiday.  State laws in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and a majority of other states designate the state holiday as Washington’s Birthday.  The secretaries of state in Mississippi and Arkansas annually issue proclamations that the day is to be observed as Washington’s Birthday. Tennessee state law says the holiday is Washington Day.

However, despite the law, the Tennessee state government website says the holiday is Presidents Day. Probably the most egregious offenders in misidentifying the holiday are school systems and libraries that list the day as Presidents Day on their calendars and in the case of libraries, post on their doors that their library is closed in observance of Presidents Day. Schools and libraries are supposedly centers of knowledge and research but the officials who run them have been caught up in the widespread mistake.

However, the situation can be used as an annual reminder that what advertisers say, what governmental leaders say and what you read and hear in the news media is not always correct.

Here is the list of the 2014 federal holidays that is published by the federal Office of Personnel Management:

2014 Holiday Schedule



Wednesday, January 1 New Year’s Day
Monday, January 20 Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, February 17 * Washington’s Birthday
Monday, May 26 Memorial Day
Friday, July 4 Independence Day
Monday, September 1 Labor Day
Monday, October 13 Columbus Day
Tuesday, November 11 Veterans Day
Thursday, November 27 Thanksgiving Day
Thursday, December 25 Christmas Day


*This holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday” in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.