Today, this morning and this afternoon into the evening is Presidents Day, or formally Washington’s Birthday. The day was changed officially in 1971 by Richard Nixon and became Presidents Day in an attempt to create more three-day weekends corresponding with federal holidays.
I have mixed emotions about those changes. In 1971 I was a sophomore in high school, not a particularly great student, I loved to ditch and go to the beach or mountains with friends. The beach in Southern California during the winter months generally meant fewer crowds, more beach, choppy surf and most important it was a time to, just get away.
The problem with the set holiday on the third Monday of February was that everyone else also had the same ideas of getting away as I did, and now had an extra day to do just that, get away. The beaches were more crowded, the local ski resorts were packed and the amusement parks were inundated with families and friends just “getting away”.
The other issues were in how this particular holiday seemed to minimize the previous holidays of President Washington and Lincoln. Lincoln’s Birthday used to be celebrated on his birthday, February 12th. Washington is officially recognized by the holiday we refer to as Presidents day, but there is no official Presidents day within in the United States. February 20th is officially called “Washington’s Birthday”, It’s just not celebrated on his actual birthday February 22nd. Lincoln’s birthday has never really been an official Federal Holiday and was only celebrated at the state level with 1940 being the highest year for observance with over 20 states recognizing Lincoln’s birthday.
I love my three day weekends and as I teacher I am ecstatic about the prospect of not going to school during those Uniform Monday Holiday Act days, but it does bother me that we change the past by rewriting the present. We change our important days into days we might enjoy but it looses its meaning.
Especially in schools, where we have become very adept at speaking in a politically correct manner. We changed Christmas to Winter Break. Easter is now Spring Break with some schools changing the dates to accommodate some other criteria rather than the Christian holiday it used to represent.
We never had a Lincoln’s birthday federally, we did in California but now even that is gone. We really don’t have a president’s day, that’s only its unofficial name. Washington’s Birthday is still observed but only rarely does it correspond with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The effects of these changes have been negative, for the most part, and especially in relation to our memories of why we celebrate and to who we are celebrating.
Youtube interviews show happy students having fun but totally unaware of what they were celebrating. It is because of the changes in the status of these holidays or some other reason but the bottom line is, if we don’t remember why we celebrate, then there really is no reason to celebrate.