Smart Student Corner
The question pops up every February. What’s the proper way to punctuate the federal holiday we celebrate on the third Monday of the month? Is it Presidents Day, President’s Day, or Presidents’ Day? It’s not hard to find sales ads and TV news broadcasts that use each version. Just this morning, one local TV newscast left out the apostrophe, while half an hour later, the national network’s own graphics used “Presidents’.” So which is correct?
The short answer is: none of the above. It’s properly called Washington’s Birthday, with the apostrophe before the final s.
The longer answer is that there’s no uniform agreement on the matter, because there’s no uniform agreement on what the so-called Presidents’ Day is intended to celebrate. If your intent is to honor only George Washington, or only the sitting president, then “President’s Day” (singular possessive) is your only choice. If you have Washington and Lincoln in mind, which is how many people perceive the holiday, or if you believe the day should honor all the presidents, you can use either “Presidents’ Day” (plural possessive) or “Presidents Day” (attributive noun). The Chicago Manual of Style recommends the former, but the Associated Press Style Guide recommends the latter.
When a holiday has an official name, the spelling and punctuation are a given. President Woodrow Wilson created the executive order that established Mother’s Day (singular possessive), while in 1954 Congress changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day (attributive).
So unless the federal government decides to rename Washington’s Birthday, you’re welcome to use whichever punctuation you prefer.
For more information, including the history of the holiday (and why it’s not really called Presidents Day), you can check out this article on snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Pages.