The global economy is a perpetual motion machine, but U.S. stock markets do take breaks: In addition to the weekends, there are nine holidays on which the stock exchange is shuttered.
One of them is coming up this Monday -- Presidents Day, a federal holiday that began in 1879 as an observance of George Washington's birthday, Feb. 22. The date was changed to the third Monday of the month by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1971. When that law was being drafted, it was proposed that the holiday should be renamed "Presidents Day" to honor Abraham Lincoln, born on Feb. 12, as well as Washington. The idea died in committee, however, and the holiday is still known on the federal level as Washington's Birthday.
But in the popular lexicon, Presidents Day has taken over -- largely because of the efforts of the nation's advertisers, who jumped at the opportunity for another three-day weekend sales extravaganza. As recounted in a 2004 article in Prologue Magazine, a publication of the National Archives,
Local advertisers morphed both "Abraham Lincoln's Birthday" and "George Washington's Birthday" into the sales sound bite "President's Day," expanding the traditional three-day sales to begin before Lincoln's birth date and end after Washington's February 22 birth. In some instances, advertisers promoted the sales campaign through the entire month of February. To the unsuspecting public, the term linking both presidential birthdays seemed to explain the repositioning of the holiday between two high-profile presidential birthdays.
Controversy ensued over the proper style: Is it "President's Day," honoring the office (or maybe Washington himself, prototypical president and "father of his country")? Or are all the people who've held the post being celebrated, making the proper punctuation either "Presidents Day" or "Presidents' Day"?
There was in fact an attempt to create a catchall presidential day of observance: A committee was formed in 1951 and worked for two decades toward that goal, intending to plant the new holiday on March 4, the date of the original inauguration day. But despite some success at the state level, the proposal stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to The American Spectator, it was a question of timing: "Several members were concerned that adding a third holiday to celebrations of Washington's and Lincoln's birthday would be bad for the economy."
Although Presidents Day is not, in fact, a fête for all the presidents, it is known as Washington and Jefferson Day in Alabama, despite the fact that our country's third president came into the world in the fourth month, not the second. (Why the conspicuous lack of esteem for Lincoln in the Cotton State, no one has to ask.) So it seems appropriate, thinking of markets, to remember what Jefferson had to say about corporations, writing in 1816:
I hope we shall take warning from the example [of England] and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
Or, if you're more of a Yankee fan, here's Honest Abe, speaking to the Illinois legislature in 1837:
These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.
Presented without further comment, in the age of the too-big-to-fail financial institution.
Here's the complete list of weekdays in 2013 that cannot be spent tracking corporate fortunes (or your own) -- in this country, at least:
Stock Market Holiday Schedule 2013
New Year's Day
Jan. 1, 2013
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Jan. 21, 2013
Feb. 18, 2013
March 29, 2013
May 27, 2013
July 4, 2013
Sept. 2, 2013
Nov. 28, 2013
Dec. 25, 2013
The stock market will also close early (1 p.m.) on Wednesday, July 3; Friday, Nov. 29; and Tuesday, Dec. 24.