Why do we have this holiday?
According to the History Channel, “Presidents’ Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February; Presidents’ Day 2020 occurs on Monday, February 17. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present.”
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. His birthday was once celebrated as an American holiday, but George lost out when we shifted the date to the third Monday in February, lumped in all the other US leaders, and changed the name to Presidents Day. But let’s get back to the central question, why do we have this holiday?
For years, African Americans lobbied for a commemorative day for civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation declaring the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was remodeled recently to be a day of service, keeping with the credo of the slain leader. As a slap to the face of most activists, Mississippi and Alabama celebrate Robert E. Lee, a confederate General, on the same day.
Here in quirky America, we enacted the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It basically says that if we add an official federal holiday it must be placed on a Monday to produce another three-day weekend for our citizens. I guess that makes sense.
There are some holidays that cannot be moved, like the 4th of July and Flag Day on June 14th. I will always remember that one, because it’s my father’s birthday and I hold the fond memory of him claiming that everyone put their flags out for him on his big day. I might add a footnote that there are some very sad, non-holidays like September 11th, which remains locked into our memories.
If you think we have too many holidays here in the States, you might want to consider other countries. India has several religious holidays are celebrated over multiple days. There are more than 40 holidays and observances in the land of curry. Deeply Catholic nations in Europe have mini parties on every saint’s day. Some bring about excuses for drinking early in the day while others bearing the saint’s name get the day off work.
I have nothing against holidays and celebrations. I was glad when they added Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to the calendar. It always comes in January, when the pain of getting back to work after the long winter holidays got a bit taxing.
The Uniform Holiday Act, with its three-day weekends, is a brilliantly American idea. Let’s just make sure that we never have a Donald Trump day. His birthday is June 14, Flag Day, so he will likely claim all those flags are for him. Maybe we should lobby to rename that date as National Narcissist Day. I imagine most Americans would get up, go out and do something for themselves on that holiday. Oh wait, isn’t that every day in the life of a Republican?
Enjoy this day off, but if you are required to work today then blame the government.