Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.
The Confusion Around the Phrase Presidents Day
On the other hand, referring to it as “Presidents’ Day” means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively.
Finally, calling the day “Presidents Day”—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.
You would think that in the more than 140 years since “Washington’s Birthday” was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.
Presidents Day in Individual States
Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want.
Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee. The same is true in Mississippi.)
Some states don’t even celebrate Presidents Day in February: Georgia and Indiana mark the holiday in December, and New Mexico celebrates the day after Thanksgiving to give state employees an extra day off of work.
What Style and Grammar Guides Say
You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers Presidents Day, while the Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster prefer Presidents’ Day.
The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong. Feel free to skirt around the whole issue by just calling it “Washington’s Birthday” instead.
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A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2024.