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Happy Washington's Birthday

george_washington.jpgToday is Presidents Day, at least in California. It falls, awkward and confusing, on the federal holiday designated by our federal government as Washington’s Birthday. And when I talk to friends and relatives around the country, I’m always reminded what a blurry and diminished holiday it has become. Here’s why.

Presidents Day (or Presidents’ Day), is a commonly used but erroneous name for the federal holiday officially designated as Washington’s Birthday. It is also the official name of a concurrent state holiday celebrated on the same day in a small number of states on the third Monday of February. To further muddy the water, some states call it “Washington’s and Lincoln’s Day” and other variations. Some spell it “Presidents” Day, some spell it “Presidents’” Day.

As the official title of the federal holiday, Washington’s Birthday was originally implemented by the federal government of the United States in 1880 in the District of Columbia and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices. As the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, the holiday was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22. But on January 1, 1971 the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an ill conceived idea in my opinion that created long weekends but significantly diminished the meaning and significance of the affected holidays. Adding another layer of confusion, a draft of the Uniform Holidays Bill of 1968 would have renamed the holiday to Presidents’ Day to honor both Washington and Lincoln, but this proposal failed in committee and the bill, as voted on and signed into law on June 28, 1968, simply moved Washington’s Birthday.

In the late 1980s, with a push from advertisers, the term Presidents Day began its public appearance. The theme has expanded the focus of the holiday to honor another President born in February, Abraham Lincoln, and often other Presidents of the United States. Although Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, was never a federal holiday, approximately a dozen state governments have officially renamed their Washington’s Birthday observances as “Presidents Day”, “Washington and Lincoln Day”, or various similar designations.

But, at least from my perspective, today honors only George Washington. It is, and should continue to be, the day we honor the accomplishments of the man who has been referred to, for over two centuries, as “The Father of his Country”. Celebrated for his leadership in the founding of the nation, he was the Electoral College’s unanimous choice to become the first President. He was seen as a unifying force for the new republic and set an example for future holders of the office.

The federal holiday is also a tribute to the general who created the first military badge of merit for the common soldier. Revived on Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932, the Purple Heart recognizes injuries received in battle. In 2007, the country celebrated both Washington’s 275th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the rebirth of the Purple Heart medal.

Since 1862, there has been a tradition in the United States Senate that George Washington’s Farewell Address be read on his birthday. Citizens had asked that this be done in light of the approaching Civil War. The annual tradition continues with the reading of the address on or near Washington’s Birthday. For many, the revisiting of Washington’s Birthday is a strong reminder of the many contributions made by a great man to the early republic.

And so with that said, I’ll be taking the rest of the day off. Enjoy the holiday and we’ll see you tomorrow!

Posted on Feb 18, 2008 at 08:00AM by Registered CommenterDoug in | Comments6 Comments

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Reader Comments (6)

To you too. To make things even more confusing, we celebrate all the presidents born in Massachusettes!

I haven't any problem with states setting their own holidays, but why do it on an already existing federal holiday?

Dumb is all I can say!

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterBurnett

Well put and I agree. Dumb!!

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterJason

And why should advertisers and retailers have any say in when a hioliday is celebrated, anyway? I know they have a financial concern, but it shouldn't permit the wholesale moving arouind and redeignation of holidays for their financial convenience,

And I agree withy you that holidays should be on their related day of significance, not a convenient Monday. People take the long weekend and have no idea why.

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterTeddy

I agree except the holidays on Mondays are great. It gives us mini-vacation time with family if they are out of town.

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterJasmine

Now, don't go trying to take away our three day weekends. I agree with much of what you say, but three day weekends give us time with family. Let's keep them.

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterGrady

Yeah, Lincoln and Washington were two of our very best Presidents all right. We've had a few good ones and some terrible ones too. Seems like all that want to run are power grabbers and party fanatics. No real statesmen around any more.

February 20 | Unregistered Commentergallahad

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