Smart And Spicy

Quick, when is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday? When is George Washington's birthday?

Every schoolchild in America used to know these dates. Now we celebrate "President's Day". I wonder if anyone knows which Presidents the day is celebrating.

(I suspect our current President thinks it's about him). (And it may be...keep reading).

Is it President's *Day* or President's *Weekend*? Or does that depend on what stores say in ads? The spelling itself is an issue. But we'll get to that.

When I started thinking about this, I felt bad for Abraham Lincoln. I believed the holiday we have now is meant to celebrate both his and George Washington's birthdays, yet since it falls closer to Washington's birthday, I felt Lincoln was being dissed. I definitely believed the holiday's meant to celebrate both.

Wrong, wrong.

And I never realized how complicated it all is.

First, we know George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. Yet even that date's in question. Turns out, they used the Julian calendar when Washington was born; when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, February 22 was accepted as the birthday. You might find the calendars' story fascinating, as well.

So we have Washington's birthday as February 22.

Lincoln's birthday was February 12. I always thought they were the same kind of holiday. It was a real holiday: things shut down; kids got to stay home from school; offices closed.

Wrong again. Lincoln's birthday was never a federal holiday. It was a state holiday where they wanted it; some states never did want it.

So now it's a mess. Some states still observe Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays as separate holidays; some observe only Washington's birthday; some don't remember either day. Oddly, Alabama designates the third Monday in February for both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, though Jefferson was born in April. A small number of states celebrate Presidents day in November or December so they get longer Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, without paying for the extra holiday.

Some states dropped Lincoln's birthday as a holiday after MLK's birthday and Columbus Day were made federal holidays, to keep a fixed number of paid holidays per year.

We all know that if you're a store, you definitely celebrate all of the above.

In 2001, a bill made its way through Congress, introduced as the "Washington-Lincoln Recognition Act of 2001." It required people to call Washington’s birthday only by that name, and nothing else. It also required a yearly Presidential proclamation honoring Lincoln’s birthday. It never came up for a vote; the bill never got out of its sub-committee.

There's so much confusion about this holiday, it has its own page on Snopes. This great debunking website says it's false to think the holiday we celebrate this weekend is named "Presidents' Day."

Snopes blames the Uniform Holidays Bill, passed in 1968. This bill changed the date of three federal holidays from their actual dates to designated Mondays, creating more three-day weekends for federal employees (Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day). More confusion: Veterans Day was later restored to November 11.

Poor Abe got screwed.

The official holiday date, the third Monday in February, is usually recognized as Washington's Birthday. Oddly, it's almost never his real birthday. The official name is "Washington's Birthday", according to the U.S. Code title 5, section 6103(a), the law listing holidays for Federal employees.

Meanwhile, some states and cities, and car dealers, call it "Presidents Day."

In the 1980's, the holiday became synonymous with big sales. Today, trains and buses are running and many offices are open.

Today, almost half of all states have renamed the holiday. It has different names: Presidents’ Day, President’s Day, Presidents Day, Washington’s Birthday / President’s Day, or in Arizona, Lincoln / Washington / President’s Day!

Four states celebrate it for Washington only; five states name it for both Washington and Lincoln. In California, Lincoln’s birthday is explicitly named as a separate holiday, but since 2009, state employees don’t get a paid holiday. I can’t even list all the variations in when it’s celebrated; there are too many state differences. In Georgia, it’s Christmas Eve, or the prior Friday if Christmas falls on a Sunday; in Indiana, it’s Christmas Eve, but the day before the weekend if Christmas is Saturday or Sunday; Lincoln’s Birthday is the day after Thanksgiving.

Poor Lincoln. His birthday was never a US Federal Government holiday. By Federal law, the third Monday in February is still “Washington’s Birthday”.

Who’s Got the Apostrophe?

Some states spell it President’s Day; some use Presidents’ Day; and some use Presidents Day, as does the Associate Press Stylebook. In some states, they name it for Washington and Lincoln, and in Virginia, it’s just George Washington Day.

The official name in California? “The third Monday in February”.

Why all the variations? The Federal government can’t make laws forcing states to recognize federal holidays. And states can recognize other days as holidays that aren’t federal holidays: Texas recognizes all federal holidays but Columbus Day, and also calls the Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and the day after, their state holiday.

Guess what? The President can declare other public holidays according to Federal law. Please don’t let Donald Trump see this. Soon, we might be celebrating Stephen Bannon Day or Kellyanne Conway Day. Watch for it.

There must be a room somewhere where dead Presidents go. I can see it now: they’re all sitting around, chewing the fat over whoever’s the next President. Wouldn’t you like to hear what they’re saying about the last four weeks?

Imagine their take on fake news, barring people on the basis of religion, telling the press to shut up. What would they say about the undeniable conflicts of interest?

Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on that wall?


©Carole Bell 2017 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

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