Monday, February 21, 2011

Washington's Birthday, 2011

I know. Some of you thought today was "Presidents' Day." Don't let that bother you. Some of you believe in the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, and that Elvis works at a Burger King in Michigan.

Where I come from, we usually look at such people and say "Bless their heart." That's Georgia-speak for "What a dumbass."

I know, the calendar you got at the kiosk at the mall has "Presidents Day" written in the little block for today. Well, about those people that made that calendar? Bless their heart.

I know, all the TV and radio ads talk about "Presidents Day" sales going on today. Those people that wrote those commercials? Bless their heart.

Today's a federal holiday. And, it's "Washington's Birthday." Take a look at United States Code 5 U.S.C. 6103 and see what it says. Sure enough, it says "Washington's Birthday."

Now, the truth is that George Washington's birthday isn't until tomorrow. In fact, the official federal holiday for Washington's Birthday never falls on his actual birthday. Who else but the government could screw up a birthday so bad? And some folks want them in charge of health care. Bless their heart.

Why do I make a big deal about what today is called? Because I think it's bad idea to ignore history. George Washington was actually a pretty important guy in American history. Important enough to actually give a holiday for his birthday.

George Washington

George Washington was born on February 11, 1731. You see, the colony of Virginia, like all of Great Britain, was using the Julian calendar at the time. When Britain and the colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, a lot of dates changed. New Years Day moved from March 25 to January 1, and 11 days disappeared. You can read all about that craziness here.

The upshot is that the old style date of February 11, 1731 became February 22, 1732. And that's George Washington's birthday.

George Washington became a surveyor, joined the Virginia militia, fought in the Seven Years War (AKA the French and Indian War), married a rich widow, fooled around a lot, and became a successful businessman.

As tensions mounted between the colonies and the British Crown, 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 in 1787 (ratified in 1788). The presidential electors unanimously selected Washington as the first President, the only person ever so honored.

Washington served two terms, retired, and lived a quiet life until 1799.

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.

Holiday confusion

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. (Snopes has a write-up about this, too, by the way.)

Some states observed Abraham Lincoln's birthday (February 12). Some still might. And some people got the idea that the new federal holiday in February was for Washington and Lincoln. Bless their heart.

Somewhere along the way, people began to call today's holiday "Presidents' Day." Whether by design or not, it contributes to the ignorance of Americans. It ignores the importance of George Washington. And it causes many Americans to either forget or never understand the contributions of George Washington in the formation of this great country.

So, I wish you a very pleasant Washington's Birthday today. Some of you are off work. Others, like me, have a regular work day. Whatever your plans are, take some time to remember George Washington.

And, if you're celebrating Presidents Day today? Bless your heart.

1 comment:

  1. I've noted that the Bishop (from Mississippi) says "bless their heart" a lot.

    You have to speak with a soft, comfy southern drawl (with a little lab head-tilt and a gentle, reserved smile) to really make it work.

    My mother and her sisters could do it, I can not.


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