Washington’s Birthday

Appears in

Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America

Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America

By Andrew F. Smith

Published 2004

  • About
George Washington was born on 12 February 1732. In 1752 Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar, recalculating 12 February to 22 February and setting the stage for a great deal of confusion. This ambiguity was finally settled by an act of Congress in 1968, which moved the official celebration of Washington’s birthday to the third Monday of February.
The first recorded celebration of Washington’s birthday took place during the Revolutionary War; the occasion was marked by a military band at Valley Forge in 1778. Food first entered into the festivities three years later, at a dinner hosted by America’s French allies in honor of Washington and his officers. By 1782 Americans were celebrating the occasion with similar public and private parties. These patriotic dinners grew into the “birth-night balls” of the new republic, where the eating of “American” foods like turkey and turtle were accompanied by round upon round of toasts from glasses filled with “domestic” spirits.