Monday, February 15, 2010

It is NOT Presidents Day

What's today?

If you said "Presidents Day" (or "President's Day" or "Presidents' Day" or any other variation), then you're wrong. And, after reading this, if you still say "Presidents Day" (or any variation), then you're a dumbass.

Today is the official observation of Washington's Birthday. It is not Presidents Day. Let me state that again: it is not Presidents Day. And, just in case you aren't clear: it is not Presidents Day.

There is no such thing as Presidents Day. It doesn't exist. Oh, don't get me wrong, this has nothing to do with the ass-clown in the White House today. I think we've had some good presidents -- in the past -- including some who are worthy of celebrating. I also think we've had some low-lifes that should have ended up in a cage and been poked with sticks. But that's not the topic today. Today's topic is Washington's Birthday. Pull up a chair.

Calendar problems

George Washington was born February 11, 1731.

What's that? You thought his birthday was February 22, 1732? Well, yes, but when George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the calendar said February 11, 1731.

You see, calendars have had problems over the years. And the American Colonies were using the same calendar as Great Britain -- and they used the Julian Calendar. The problem was, the Julian Calendar had a flaw. And that flaw caused the calendar to get out of sync with the Earth's position around the sun.

Well, the Gregorian Calendar fixed the flaws, pretty much. In fact, we're using it today. But they had a situation back then. Once England made the jump from Julian to Gregorian in 1752, that meant that dates in the past changed. What was February 11, 1732 became February 22, 1732. For a while, it became common (and necessary in many instances) to designate which calendar date you were talking about. They used Old Style and New Style to tell the difference. Particularly since the year didn't change on January 1, but on March 25. Yes, it's confusing, but you can go read all about it here.

Once the whole calendar thing got all straightened out, people started celebrating Washington's Birthday on February 22nd. Well, the Washington family did. The rest of us didn't care. Actually, most of us weren't around then. But those that were, didn't care. Except friends and family of the little cherry tree killer. Okay, that story didn't really happen, buy you get my point. Well, actually, that's not my point. My point is: It's not Presidents Day; it's George Washington's Birthday.

Washington's Birthday as a holiday

George Washington led the American forces in the Revolutionary War, culminating in the British surrender and recognition of the United States of American as a soverign nation. After several unsuccessful governments were established under the Articles of Confederation, a new Constitution was adopted. The electors unanimously selected Washington as the first President, the only person ever so honored, although James Monroe came 1 vote shy in 1820.

As a military officer and a statesman and politician, Washington was one of the most respected Americans. And, his birthday was celebrated by the states. In 1879, Washington's Birthday became the fifth federal holiday, joining New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

In 1968, the movement to change many holidays to a nearby Monday began. In 1971, Richard Nixon issued Executive Order 11582, beginning that process. Still, the holiday is officially Washington's Birthday, and has always been Washington's Birthday. If you still don't believe me, take a look at United States Code (5 U.S.C. 6103) and check out the third holiday listed. See?

Or, you can go read Snopes. They have a good write-up about Washington's Birthday.

One odd thing: nearly a century and three-quarters after he died, the very government he helped found started screwing around with his birthday again. It's now officially observed on the 3rd Monday in February. Which means it can be as early as the 15th, and as late as the 21st. But never on his real birthday, the 22nd.

It takes a government to really screw something up.

Still, it's the best government we have. If we can keep it.

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