Apostrophe placement is something that I am often concerned with. Whether it is worrying about my own use of the punctuation mark, criticizing others for their misuse, or simply thinking about its in contractions and possessives, the apostrophe is something that constantly comes up. The reason it comes up today is because of the holiday today. I’ve chosen to spell it as a singular possessive, as if the day belongs to one president because, as far as my limited research tells me, it does belong to just one man: George Washington.
Statue of George Washington as a Roman General by Antonio Canova. The original sat at the center of North Carolina’s State House in Raleigh from 1820 until it was destroyed when the State House burned to the ground in 1831. There is now a copy from 1970 in the current Capitol Building.
You see, Washington’s birthday is February 22. In 1880, that date was celebrated as a holiday for federal employees in Washington, DC, and then in 1885 it was extended to all federal employees. Then, in the 1960s, congress decided to make some federal holidays fall on Mondays just to give people consecutive days off so they could watch all three Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition movies in one weekend while still leaving time for important Saturday and Sunday broadcasts like NCAA and NFL football and Mad Men. The Federal Government proclaimed the third Monday in February the date for recognition of Washington’s birthday. Of course, mathematically, the third Monday will never fall on Washington’s actual birthday.
Anyway, some state governments began to recognize the holiday as “Presidents Day,” (you choose where to put the apostrophe), because of the holiday’s proximity to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) as well as Washington’s. I don’t remember every celebrating anything other than Presidents’ Day on the holiday, though I remember seeing both Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays on the calendar in elementary school. Lincoln’s birthday is not a federal holiday. In fact, MLKJ is the only other person to be honored with a Federal holiday in the US.
So, I guess that we’re technically celebrating Washington’s birthday on the 3rd Monday in February, but depending on where you are, it might also be called President’s Day, which you can interpret as a celebration of one president, two presidents, or, if you really want to be all-inclusive, EVERY president. Still, it would seem that celebrating just Washington is the most historically correct. That said, I’m not opposed to slapping myself on the forehead every April 23rd in honor of James Buchanan.
(info for this post, and more in-depth exploration of the holiday can be found in this article by CL Arbelbide)