Today, February 18, we celebrate Presidents’ Day, or do we? According to Wikipedia, the moniker, “Presidents’ Day,” is actually a colloquialism. The official name of the federal holiday is “Washington’s Birthday.” It is celebrated on the third Monday of February, which, depending on the particular year, can be anywhere between the 15th and the 21st. However, as many of you know, W was actually born on February 22, so the holiday never falls on his actual birthday. Except, the year W was born, 1731, the British Empire, including the American Colonies, was still using the Old Style Julian calendar, which was eleven days behind the modern Gregorian calendar, which became the standard in 1752. So, technically, W was born on February 11, 1732 (Old Style). Confused? Read on; it gets worse.
Congress first promulgated the federal holiday honoring W in 1879. Fittingly, W was the first and only President to be so honored. It was celebrated on February 22. In 1951 a gentleman named Harold Fischer formed a committee with the apt name of the “President’s Day National Committee,” of which he became the National Executive Director, for the purpose of honoring, not a particular president, but the office, itself. There was sentiment for designating March 4 as the date since that was the original presidential inauguration date, and, in point of fact, several states’ did designate that date as President’s Day.
Finally, in 1971 Congress clarified matters with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It wanted to promulgate a holiday that would honor both W and Abraham Lincoln, whom most historians recognize (as do I) as our two best presidents. The holiday was moved to the third Monday in February, which, as I have said, falls in between L (February 12) and W’s (February 22) birthdays. It has remained there ever since. People liked it because it provided a built-in three-day weekend, and retailers liked it because customers could spend the extra day off shopping in their stores.
Still confused? Almost done, but there’s more. For example:
1. Today, the holiday is widely viewed as a plural (Presidents’ Day) to honor all presidents, not only W.
2. The day is not a universal holiday. It is celebrated as a state holiday in only 38 of the 50 states, plus DC and Puerto Rico.
3. Moreover, these states use 14 different variations of the name of the holiday, such as “President’s Day,” “Presidents’ Day,” “George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday,” “Lincoln/Washington/Presidents Day,” “George Washington’s Birthday,” and “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” (who?), among others.
4. Fourteen states do not celebrate the holiday at all.
5. Other variations:
a. Massachusetts celebrates “Presidents Day” on May 29 in honor of four specific presidents. Can you name them? Three are easy. They were born in the state and were well-accomplished, aside from being president. The fourth, who was more obscure, was born in a neighboring state, but served as MA governor before becoming president. Kudos if you can name all four. See answer below.
b. New Mexico celebrates the holiday on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
c. Georgia celebrates the day on Christmas Eve.
d. Indiana also celebrates it on Christmas Eve, or the previous workday.
e. W’s adopted city of Alexandria, VA holds celebrations throughout the entire month of February, including what is billed as the nation’s “longest-running and largest George Washington Birthday parade.”
f. The city of Eustis, FL boasts a “GeorgeFest” celebration, which dates back to 1902.
g. One popular food that is traditionally consumed on this day is…?
h. Which medal did W create for the “common soldier?”
For many of you, today marks the end of winter vacation from school and work. If you have yet to travel home be careful and be safe. If you have already returned, I hope you enjoyed your time off.
I told you this would be confusing, but, now, you are doubtlessly an expert regarding the holiday.
Quiz answers: 1) John Adams, John Quincy Adams, JFK, and Calvin Coolidge
2) Cherry pie, for obvious reasons.
3) The Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.
PS. Daisy Gatson Bates was a civil rights activist who played a leading role in the integration of Arkansas’ public schools in the late 1950s.