I’m sitting at my desk at work because today is not a holiday at the University of Pittsburgh. Why not? I remember when I was a small child in Pennsylvania we had no school on Feb. 12, Lincoln’s birthday, or Feb. 22, Washington’s birthday. Somehow in the 20-odd years during which I didn’t live in Pennsylvania that changed.
Here’s the scoop on today’s holiday. It is a national holiday called "Washington’s Birthday" as spelled out in federal law at 5 U.S.C. § 6103(a) . But this holiday status applies only to employees of the federal government – executive departments, independent agencies, and Government corporations, including their field services. Washington’s Birthday (Feb. 22) has been a national holiday since 1879 but in 1971 it moved to the third Monday in February instead of Feb. 22.
In my state of Pennsylvania, today is also a state holiday called "Presidents’ Day" as spelled out in Pennsylvania state law 44 P.S. § 11 . Both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays were once state holidays, but in 1968 the Washington’s Birthday holiday was moved to the third Monday in February instead of Feb. 22, and in 1978 the Lincoln’s Birthday holiday was eliminated. And again, this only applies to state government employees and banks. For the rest of us, employee manuals tell us that companies generally balance internal work requirements and employee morale against federal and state holiday schedules and the prevailing practices among other local employers.
There is an entertaining and informative article on the National Archives website that gives a detailed history of today’s holiday.
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