Why did George Washington have two birthdays?

George Washington’s birthday is celebrated on Presidents Day, a day that has changed in meaning dramatically over the decades. 

But historians note that Washington was hesitant about publicly celebrating his birthday, so as to draw distinction from being honored and celebrated like a king. 

So when exactly is Washington’s birthday? Though we now have a dedicated day to celebrate, the answer is a bit more complicated. 

RELATED: What's open and closed on Presidents Day

George Washington’s birthdays

Washington was born Feb. 22, 1732, on Popes Creek Plantation near the Potomac River in Virginia.

Technically, though, he was born Feb. 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar, which was still in use for the first 20 years of his life. 

The Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, adding a year and 11 days, according to the national archives, to more accurately calculate leap years. 

Regardless, Washington paid little attention to his birthday according to Mountvernon.org, the website of the organization that manages his estate. Surviving records make no mention of observances at Mount Vernon, while his diary shows he was often hard at work.

Washington's birthday was celebrated by his peers in government when he was president — mostly.

Congress voted during his first two terms to take a short commemorative break each year, with one exception, his last birthday in office, historian Alexis Coe told The Associated Press. By then Washington was less popular, partisanship was rampant and many members of his original Cabinet were gone, including Thomas Jefferson.

"One way to show their disdain for his Federalist policies was to keep working through his birthday," Coe said.


George Washington, portrait painting by Constable-Hamilton, 1794. From the New York Public Library. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).

RELATED: Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday collide: When love meets Lent

Presidents Day today

It wasn't until 1832, the centennial of his birth, that Congress established a committee to arrange national "parades, orations and festivals," according to the Congressional Research Service.

And only in 1879 was his birthday formally made into a legal holiday for federal employees in the District of Columbia.

The official designation is as Washington’s Birthday, although it has come to be known informally as Presidents Day

By the late 1960s, Washington’s Birthday was one of nine federal holidays that fell on specific dates on different days of the week, according to a 2004 article in the National Archives' Prologue magazine.

Congress voted to move some of those to Mondays, following concerns that were in part about absenteeism among government workers when a holiday fell midweek. But lawmakers also noted clear benefits to the economy, including boosts in retail sales and travel on three-day weekends.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect in 1971, moving Presidents Day to the third Monday in February.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.