There Is No Federal Presidents' Day Holiday

But federal employees, like many other workers, do get Monday, Feb. 17, 2020 off.

A quick look at the Office of Personnel Management’s official list of federal holidays for 2020 finds one that falls on Monday, Feb. 17. But it’s not Presidents’ Day.

As longtime federal employees surely know by now, the holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday in February is Washington’s Birthday

That’s been true since 1971, when Congress moved to standardize certain federal holidays to fall on Mondays and provide workers across the country with three-day weekends. Washington’s actual birthday, Feb. 22, had been celebrated as a national holiday since 1879. (By the way, the National Archives notes that “federal worker absenteeism” on key dates such as New Year’s Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving led Congress to create federal holidays in the first place.)

Rep. Robert McClory, R-Ill., who pushed the legislation enacted in 1968 to celebrate some federal holidays on Mondays, also proposed changing the name of Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day. And he strategically picked a date that would fall near both Washington’s birthday and that of Illinois native son Abraham Lincoln. But the idea of forcing Washington to share his day of honor with all other presidents fizzled in the face of widespread opposition on Capitol Hill.

"It was the collective judgment of the Committee on the Judiciary," said Rep. William Moore McCulloch, R-Ohio, "that this would be unwise. Certainly, not all presidents are held in the same high esteem as the father of our country. There are many who are not inclined to pay their respects to certain presidents.”

But McClory got the last laugh. Most everyone refers to the holiday as Presidents’ Day now (seen any Washington’s Birthday mattress sales lately?), and many states recognize it as such. 

And in a final ironic twist, the federal Washington’s Birthday holiday can never fall on Washington’s actual birthday, because Feb. 22 never falls on the third Monday in February.