Some thoughts on Presidents Day
February 14, 2008
How many presidents are there in Presidents Day? The quick answer that most of us would give is two. But in truth, it depends on which state you live in.
Presidents Day is about as muddled as it’s possible for a legal holiday to be, due to the fact that, over the years, several of our 50 states have had strong ” and somewhat differing ” opinions as to which presidents should be honored.
The history is actually rather interesting, because Presidents Day was the very first federal holiday instituted in honor of a real person ” George Washington. Presidents Day was first celebrated in 1880, on February 22nd ” Washington’s Birthday.
Our good friends at Wikipedia tell us that wasn’t until a full century later, in the 1980s, that Presidents Day became reinvented, so to speak, to include Lincoln ” as well as other presidents, depending upon the state. For instance, in Massachusetts, all of the presidents hailing from that state are included as well.
(In case you’re stuck on this one, I’ll help you out. Native-born Massachusetts presidents include John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy. Coolidge wasn’t actually born in Massachusetts, but he was considered an honorary native son).
To further confuse things, some states, such as Alabama, don’t include Lincoln in the equation at all ” Alabama instead celebrates it as “Washington and Jefferson Day,” while in Virginia, it’s celebrated as “George Washington Day.”
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In spite of the unfortunate fact that some of our presidents haven’t deserved that much celebration, the holiday is now designated ” in a sort of desultory, “let’s-lump-them-all together” way ” to honor all of the American presidents.
And what adds to the fun is the fact that the whole idea of Presidents Day as an all-inclusive sort of holiday came about because of good old American corporate advertising.
Wikipedia tells us that, sometime in the 1980s, there was a push from retail businesses to rename the holiday and set it on Monday ” but not, as many people think, in order to give employees a long weekend off. The idea behind the Monday move was to give retailers the opportunity for a major post-weekend sales event. That’s why so many consumers today associate President’s Day with furniture sales, car sales and the like.
It’s also the reason that, as you may have noticed, nobody gets President’s Day off anymore. Even banks and post offices stay open now to join in the retail business frenzy ” not that there seems to be much of one, these days.
Thanks to the internet, those who care to can look up these historical holidays online to find out what day they fall on each year. Otherwise, if it weren’t for the huge blockbuster sales advertised on TV, most of us wouldn’t even know that the holiday had come and gone.
It’s rather a shame, this lack of interest and respect for our own history. When I was a kid, way back in those far-off decades, the ’60s and ’70s, I remember that people got a day off on all the historical holidays, those “mini holidays” such as Presidents Day and Columbus Day which, while not as big as the Fourth of July, were still treated as events. We had school pageants to celebrate the upcoming day, and our parents usually got a day off from work.
By treating it as a special day, we kids got a history lesson as well. But now, it’s hard to commemorate a holiday ” or learn about its true meaning ” when it’s just like any other day of the year. I’m not sure why they even bother to call it a holiday anymore.
And somehow, the idea of celebrating our nation’s history with furniture commercials touting “zero percent interest for a full year” saddens me. We’re lucky that General Washington couldn’t have foreseen the future ” because otherwise, he might have turned that little boat around in the Delaware River and paddled right back in the opposite direction. And it would have served us right.