Crappy holidays: Presidents’ Day

A US federal public holiday which fell on 20 February this year. Now, on one level, no public holiday can ever be that crappy – a day off work/school is a day off work/school, someone might bother to put some good stuff on TV, there’ll be sales on…

No, the problem with Presidents’ Day is not so much crappiness as, well, complete confusion as to what exactly is being commemorated. Naively, I assumed from the name it was a day to celebrate the Presidents of the United States of America (the historical figures, not the Nineties band), and I was all ready to point out “that’s superfluous, isn’t the Fourth of July more or less about them anyway? That’s American National Being Patriotic Day.”

However, it seems the story is more complicated than I thought. Breaking it down:-

  1. The federal holiday is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday,” because that’s what it was originally meant to celebrate, even though Washington was born on 22 February and the holiday falls between 15-21 February, so it’s never actually on his birthday.
  2. Because Abraham Lincoln was born on 12 February, some US states, perhaps virtue-signalling about how very right they were in the Civil War (or would have been, if only they’d existed at the time), took to celebrating it as “Washington and Lincolns’ Birthday” or as “Presidents’ Day” (i.e. those two Presidents only).
  3.  Some Southern states, presumably to show that how much they don’t care that they lost the Civil War (honest!), don’t seem to have it as a state holiday at all. Result – the world gets the impression that they not only hate Old Abe, but also George Washington, and are possibly pining for George III or something.
  4. A guy called Harold Stonebridge Fischer spent about 20 years from 1951 trying to persuade politicians to have a “Presidents’ Day” on 4 March to celebrate all the Presidents, but eventually got turned down when they decided it was just one holiday too many. Incidentally, Fischer lived in Compton, California (CA). I assume he didn’t believe “it’s Uzi up the ass if you don’t get paid” or even make much dollars on the First and Fifteenth, though. Maybe his campaign would have gone better if he had.
  5. However, Fischer won a moral victory, of sorts. Some states have their own 4 March holiday to celebrate the Presidents in general, an awful lot of Americans think that’s what the February holiday’s supposed to be for and certainly the “Presidents’ Day” label is the one generally applied, mostly because it’s what retailers running holiday sales have decided to go with.

I think the conclusion is “try and keep politics about as far away from your national holidays as you can, if you want to avoid total confusion setting in.” Say what you like about Jesus, the vast majority of people don’t seem to mind having a day off on His (non-)birthday.

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