Happy Birthday, George Washington (sort of)
George Washington was born on February 22nd, and his birthday was unofficially celebrated by Americans on that date throughout the 19th century. February 22nd finally became a federal holiday in 1879.
The holiday was celebrated on February 22nd until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law to provide annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays in order to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation…offer greater opportunities for families—especially those whose members may be widely separated—to get together…allow our citizens greater participation in their hobbies as well as in educational and cultural activities…improve commercial and industrial production by minimizing midweek holiday interruptions of production schedules and reducing employee absenteeism before and after midweek holidays.” Since the law went into effect we have celebrated Washington’s birthday on the third Monday in February.
Although Washington was not a New Yorker, he spent a lot of time in and around New York City during the early days of our country’s existence. His prominence in our nation’s history is noted in the naming of Washington Street, Washington Square Park, and a large Washington statue in Union Square Park. (Washington Square Park, previously a potter’s field, was renamed the Washington Square Parade Ground on July 4th, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence). View historic images of Washington Square Park and its vicinity here.
We recognize February 22nd, 1732 as Washington’s birthday, but Washington was actually born on February 11th, 1731. In 1731, Britain and its colonies used the Julian calendar. The more accurate and currently used Gregorian calendar was not adopted by Britain and its colonies until 1752. The shift occurred because the Gregorian calendar more accurately reflects the time it takes for the Earth to circumvent the Sun. The global shift to the more accurate calendar took almost 350 years. Several European countries made the shift as early as 1582, while the last country to adopt the shift was Turkey, in 1927.