Whose day is it anyway?

Published 10:22 am Monday, February 20, 2017

by Tom Purcell

I thought the purpose of Presidents Day was getting steep discounts on mattresses and furniture.”

“Good one, but the original purpose of Presidents Day was to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. According to History.com, in 1800, the year after Washington died, ‘his February 22 birthday became a perennial day of remembrance.’ For years it was celebrated with the same passion with which Americans still celebrate the Fourth of July. In 1885, a bill established Feb. 22 as a federal holiday. The federal government still officially refers to Presidents Day as Washington’s Birthday.”

“Which is it? Washington’s Birthday or Presidents Day?”

“Well, both. Washington’s Birthday became popularly known as Presidents Day as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which sought to create more three-day weekends for federal employees. It moved the holiday from a fixed calendar date to the third Monday of February.”

“Do we also celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Presidents Day?”

“Many think we celebrate both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays on Presidents Day, but the truth is that Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, was never designated as a federal holiday. However, Presidents Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.”

“What if we don’t want to celebrate all presidents? Some of them were real duds. What if we only want to celebrate Washington and Lincoln?”

“An interesting thought. According to Snopes.com, a bill was introduced in Congress called the Washington-Lincoln Recognition Act of 2001. It proposed that Presidents Day be referred to as Washington’s Birthday, and that the president issue a proclamation every year to recognize and observe Lincoln’s birthday. But the bill was never passed into law.”

“I understand that some states still observe Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays on Feb. 22 and Feb. 12?”

“Well, you have to understand that federal holidays only apply to federal offices and agencies. States are free to do as they wish. When Presidents Day was established in 1971, many state and local governments started celebrating Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays on the same day. But some states have some interesting ways of observing birthdays.”

“I can only imagine. Can you share some examples?”

“Well, in Alabama, the third Monday in February commemorates George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — although Jefferson was born in April! And according to Snopes.com, ‘some states still observe Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays as separate holidays, some observe only Washington’s Birthday, some commemorate both with a single Presidents Day (or Lincoln-Washington Day), and some states celebrate neither.’”

“I was joking about the purpose of Presidents Day being about discounts on mattresses and furniture, but haven’t many Americans lost sight of the day’s true meaning?”

“Unfortunately, some of what you say is true. When I was a kid in the 1970s, everyone knew who Washington was and what he accomplished. One of the primary reasons the experiment called America was able to work was because of the sacrifices he made. Too few understand how unique our political system is and how the incredible bounty we enjoy can be laid at the feet of Washington. However, things are not so bad as you may think.”

“How so?”

“According to History.com, ‘Presidents Day is used by many patriotic and historical groups as a date for staging celebrations, reenactments and other events. A number of states also require that their public schools spend the days leading up to Presidents Day teaching students about the accomplishments of the presidents, often with a focus on the lives of Washington and Lincoln.’”

“That’s certainly encouraging.”

“Yes it is. Happy Presidents Day.”

TOM PURCELL, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery novel, both available at Amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.