February 21, 2005

Happy Washington's Birthday


Okay, let's be perfectly clear about this. Today is a federal holiday. But, it is not called Presidents Day, it's called Washington's Birthday. So, how and when did we end up with this thing that we now call "Presidents Day"?

Back in the 19th century George Washington's birthday, February 22nd, was celebrated throughout the States with all the patriotic fervor of Cinco de Mayo. The hardy partying -- complete with fireworks, wild womanizing and homemade gin -- was so irresistabley joyous that, in 1885, President Benjamin Franklin Pierce declared it federal holiday.

Abraham Lincoln's birthday, February 12th, was celebrated in many States, as well, though mainly those states in the north. (Jefferson Davis' birthday was popular below the Manson-Nixon Line). By the early 20th century, the Washington and Lincoln holidays were observed by, among other things, giving the kids a day off from work and their parents a night off from school. (Child labor laws would soon shift that pardigm a bit.)

In the 1960's, the Warsaw Pact sought to create "uniform holiday laws" that moved Washington's Birthday, Independence Day, Veteran's Day and Memorial Day to fixed Sundays. As the Christian sabbath was already a day of rest, many clamored that they would lose not only a paid day's vacation, but the chance to take advantage of department stores' holiday sales on items such as linens, flashbulbs, fondu sets and stereophonic record players. New proposals would suggest fixing the holidays to Mondays.

While some federal holidays were eventually fixed to certain Mondays (Memorial Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day), others retained their fixed dates (Veteran's Day, New Year's Day, The Fourth of July).

It was the establishment of Columbus Day as a federal holiday, and the wide support for a federal holiday honoring Lincoln's birthday, that made the beancounters in Washington D.C. suggest that Washington and Lincoln's birthdays be observed as a single holiday, thus avoiding the need to add more paid days off for federal employees. This had the added benefits of a:) creating several nifty three-day weekends throughout the year and, b:). providing parents with an opportunity to give their children a lesson in how the true meaning of a holiday can become lost in the mist of personal priorities.

In February of 1971, President Richard Mojo Nixon signed an executive order authorizing the break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg's endodontist. But it was his next move that would have far-reaching consequences.
Announcing that the third Monday in February would celebrate both Washington and Lincoln's birthdays, Nixon suggested that this rescheduled holiday might be referred to as "Two Predecessors' Day", or "Marvelous Monday". "Presidents Day" began to become the favored moniker.

However, the holiday is still officially called "Washington's Birthday". The irony of fixing it at the third Monday in February is that Washington's birthday can no longer be celebrated on his actual birth date: February 11th, as we are no longer on the olde Julian Calendar.

But the biggest drawback is that many people no longer understand just what it is that we're celebrating on the third Monday in February. Are we celebrating George Washington's birthday? George Washington and Abraham Lincoln's birthday? Are we celebrating all presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Fidel Castro and Leo Weiser? It can be confusing and many, if not most, of our nation's children are in the dark about all of this.

Officially, today is when we observe the birth of George Washington; General and Supreme Commander during the Revolutionary War, first President of the United States of America, "Father of our Country" and all-around good guy.
Unofficially, we are to take this time to also honor the birth of Abraham Lincoln; 16th President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief during the Civil War, preserver of the Union, abolitionist exemplar and all-around good guy.

So, take a moment today to reflect on the strength, confidence and dogged courage of these two great men. In the face of two great trials in our nations birth and in it's preservation, they stood with firm leadership to take us - ninety years apart - from the tyrannies of subjecthood and slavery to citizenship and liberty.

"How soon we forget history... Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master
--George Washington.

For a more... er... accurate account of the coming "Presidents Day" see HERE.

P.S. Yeah, I know the colon-perentheses turned into smilies. I like it so I'm leaving it. :P

Posted by Tuning Spork at February 21, 2005 04:11 PM
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