I hate Presidents Day.
Don't get me wrong. I don't mind holidays. Getting an extra day off work is great. But I like my holidays to mean something. The root words, after all, behind "holiday" are "holy day." Granted, we live now in a largely secular culture, so the adjective "holy" may seem off-putting to some. But the important point is that our holidays should mean something. They should stand for something. They should call our attention as American citizens to something worthwhile - something worth remembering, celebrating, and/or honoring.
That is not really the case with "Presidents Day." Now, of course, this isn't the official name of the holiday. The United States government recognizes the third Monday of February by its legal name: George Washington's Birthday Observed. But legal technicalities are trumped by public discourse and popular consciousness. Most Americans know the holiday as "Presidents Day." And that is therefore effectively what they celebrate.
Informed readers of course are aware that "Presidents Day" evolved from two developments:
1) the Monday Holidays Act, which moved several holidays (including Washington's Birthday) to Monday to create 3-day weekends
2) the desire of many Americans to honor Abraham Lincoln
These factors are responsible for Washington's Birthday holiday now being known as "Presidents' Day." But the effect has gone beyond the intent. The effect is that Americans now hear "Presidents" and not the names of Washington or Lincoln. They hear and say "Presidents Day," not "Washington-Lincoln Day."
The effect of that is to essentially celebrate all our Presidents. Even if many graphic artists put Washington's face and Lincoln's face next to the words "Presidents Day," it merely serves to propagate the notion that Lincoln and Washington are kind of the "first and second among equals" rather than being the exclusive focus of the holiday.
Most Americans of course don't reflect on the meaning behind any of the holidays. They just enjoy the extra day off. And businesses enjoy making extra money through sales and promotions. So even having this discussion is somewhat academic.
Nevertheless, I can't let a "Presidents Day Weekend" go by without saying something about it. The very name "Presidents Day" showcases the vague and shallow identity that has befallen a holiday that was once quite intentional, meaningful, and worthwhile.
Rather than honor the man who made the United States possible, we now - in effect - celebrate the legacies of all our "presidents," including such notables as Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Warren G. Harding.
But remember... George Washington's legacy extends beyond his accomplishments as President of the United States. Washington was a hero of the French and Indian War, an influential leader in Colonial America, the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, the president of the Constitutional Convention, and then the President of the United States. There's a reason most historians recognize him as "the indispensable man." Without Washington, it's hard to imagine the United States even getting off the ground.
You of course may celebrate "Presidents Day Weekend" as you wish, but as for me... I will remember and be grateful for the man who made the United States of America possible. And the man who made all the other Presidents possible.
It's ironic that George Washington must now share his holiday with the other 44 Presidents, but without Washington, none of the other 44 men ever would have been President in the first place.
Happy George Washington Birthday Weekend!
Blessings to all.