Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Celebrating George Washington’s Birthday

On February 6, 2011, we will celebrate what would have been President Reagan’s 100th birthday (Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2010).

It’s going to be a big day.

For one thing, Reagan’s birthday will share the day with Super Bowl Sunday. Combining these two events will be a terrific challenge.

Many events are planned, from locations in Illinois where Reagan spent his adolescent years, to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. I imagine his widow, Nancy, is heavily involved in the planning of events honoring her late husband.

Next week, we will again mark the birthday of our country’s most major political figure, George Washington, born February 22, 1732 (died 1799).

The history judging Reagan has yet to be written, but the verdict for Washington is in
, and generally it’s good.

As our first President, general of our troops during the American Revolutionary War, he is always designated as the “Founder of Our Country”. Our capitol is named after him; countless other places and events. His birthday is a major federal holiday. But how it is observed is very casual, for reasons that have evolved over 250 years.

The birthday is not observed on February 22, but on the 3rd Monday of February. It is a Monday holiday, good for business and recreation. Currently, the holiday is a big retail sales day. Years ago, when I lived in Washington D.C., dollar TVs were a huge loss-leader gimmick. A lot of other activities compete with the holiday: Valentine’s Day, with flowers and candy; Mardi Gras sometimes; Lent when it was observed more rigorously; and the height of the winter sports season. The weather does not accommodate a lot of outdoor fun – I never recall fireworks or picnics. There is no traditional meal, except maybe a slice of cherry pie.

What puzzles me is why, if the occasion is so important, it’s always a toss up if business is closed at all. What really amazes me is that the holiday is shared with another President, Lincoln; I don’t think others have been added. What has happened is that the holiday has become known as Presidents’ Day. It makes little sense to me.

On the Fourth of July and Memorial Day, usually people are off from work. For Washington’s Birthday that’s not the case at all. Also there are no parades, fireworks, other patriotic speeches either.

I’d like to see the Washington’s birthday commemoration become more solemn, bigger, louder, far more pertinent; a real federal holiday. I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

When we observe a major federal holiday, let’s have the day off. I am perfectly serious. It lends significance to the occasion. American business will survive if we add another paid holiday to our economy. I’d enjoy something special on TV – it doesn’t have to be too serious.

Washington’s Birthday shouldn’t share the day with other presidents. It’s too important for that.

This occasion lends itself to awarding an annual military history literary prize, the ceremony in Washington D.C. (where else) or even Valley Forge … any place where Washington spent an important time in his life. It may not be the Nobel Prize ceremony, but people would know about it. Let the President deliver the prize and a few patriotic remarks. After all, he greets winning sports teams in the White House. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Washington's Birthday Events at Mt. Vernon

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