February 15, 2010
Posted: 05:31 PM ET
By Ed Hornick, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Retailers open their doors Monday and roll out big sales to entice customers. Government employees - along with kids - have the day off. But do you know why?
If you answered "Presidents Day," you're technically wrong.
The actual federal holiday is called "Washington's Birthday," after the nation's first president, George Washington.
According to the Gregorian calendar, adopted by England and its colonies after Washington was born, his birth date was February 22, 1732. (The Julian calendar has him born on February 11.) He is viewed as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history and was also much adored during his lifetime.
"In the earlier years, when it was celebrated, it was more than celebrating his birth, it was celebrating what we liked about Washington: He walked away from power, a very poignant lesson for people," said presidential historian Doug Wead.
It wasn't until 1885, though, that February 22 became designated a federal holiday to honor Washington.
Presidential historian C.L. Arbelbide wrote in a 2004 article in the National Archives publication "Prologue" that succeeding generations found "significant ways to periodically resurrect his memory," as evidenced by the laying of the Washington Monument's cornerstone in 1848.
"The numerous tributes continued to reaffirm George Washington's place as the original 'American Idol,' " Arbelbide wrote in the article titled "By George, IT IS Washington's Birthday!"
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