Presidents’ Day: Why it Never Falls on George Washington’s Actual Birthday

by Taylor Cunningham

On February 11, 1750, our first president—George Washington—turned 19 years old. Then one year later, on February 22, 1752, he turned 20. Yeah, you read that right.

Because that’s so confusing, in 1971, the United States government decided to just celebrate his birthday, a.k.a Presidents’ Day, on the third Monday of each February.

However, choosing that day makes this story even more convoluted because the third Monday can only land somewhere between the 15th and the 21st. So it never falls on either of Washington’s big days.

But back to his two birthdays.

There were exactly 365 days between the dates above. And because of that, Washington has two different recorded birth dates. Don’t worry, Common Core hasn’t adapted to some new fandangled form of math. There is a very logical (and somewhat confusing) explanation to this seeming tomfoolery.

Six months before the would-be president turned the big 2-0, back when the U.S.A. was called the United Colonies, tensions with England were amping up. So Washington applied for a position with the colonial militia.

That same night, he jumped forward in time.

When he went to bed, it was Sept. 2nd, and when he awoke, it was Sept. 14th. That’s because he went through a wormhole.

No, we’re kidding. That night, the British Empire and its colonies just switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.

The Julian calendar had been in place since Julias Ceasar ruled over Rome. But centuries later, scientists realized that the calendar did not calculate years properly. So, they fixed it.

Here’s the Mathamatical Reasoning Behind George Washington’s Two Birthdays

According to the Julian calculations, one year equaled 365 days and six hours. So each year lasted for the typical 365-day duration. And every four years, the spare hours would add up to an extra day, which we know as a leap day.

But eventually, the great academics of years past figured out that those calculations were incorrect. It actually takes exactly 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45.25 seconds for the earth to make one trip around the sun.

While an 11 mins and 14.75 seconds difference doesn’t really seem like a big deal, it certainly added up over the decades. And being behind with the times caused a lot of angst for our distant relatives.

So the world governments decided to implement the Gregorian calendar to right the wrong. The Gregorian calculations are incredibly complicated, so we’ll skip explaining them.

Just believe us, really smart people figured out how to track time properly. So, just go with it.

The first ruler to switch to the Gregorian calendar was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. And most of the Catholic countries quickly followed suit. However, England, which was an Anglican country, waited another 170 years to catch up.

And yes, we know that nothing above explains why George Washington skipped a 1751 birthday altogether.

The reason for that was that people used to celebrate New Year’s Day in late March. But when England made the switch, it moved the date to January 1st. Meaning the calendar year for 1751 was only around nine months long. So anyone who was born between Jan. 1 and March 25 needed to use a different birth year.

Interestingly, not everyone decided to change their birthdays when the new rules were implemented. But George Washington was among the people who thought they needed to catch up with the new, more accurate calendar.

Hope that made sense!