Presidents Day (or whatever) holiday typical February
centralmaine.com, February 4, 2015
Can we all agree that February is the most unsatisfactory month?
First of all it’s weirdly short. I know, I know, there’s some science behind it. But still short. Weirdly so.
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The novelty of winter has worn off and there’s no hope whatsoever that spring will come any time soon. Given the weather we’ve had the past week or so, it may never come again.
The holiday season officially ended with the Super Bowl with no good holidays in sight. Underlining that fact is February’s “big” holiday, perhaps the most unsatisfactory holiday of all.
No, I’m not talking about Groundhog Day, which is a lie wrapped up in hype. No one needed an overfed weasel Monday to tell them spring isn’t on its way.
Not Valentine’s Day. Which is short for “I’m forcing you to show me you love me by superficial standards dreamed up by retailers and mooney romance-readers and you better spend money and make sure my co-workers see it or we’re breaking up day.”
No, I’m talking about President’s Day. Or Presidents’ Day. Or Washington’s Birthday.
See? No one can even settle on a name.
Officially, the third Monday of February — Feb. 16 this year — is the Washington’s Birthday federal holiday. Things go downhill from there.
In Maine the third Monday of February is Washington’s Birthday/President’s Day. You may not know that because no one calls it that.
Maine’s alone with that name. Ten states, including neighbor New Hampshire, call it President’s Day.
Six states, including Vermont, call it Presidents’ Day.
Five states call it Presidents Day. With no apostrophe.
Massachusetts celebrates Washington’s Birthday on the third Monday of February, but also recognizes Presidents Day, though it’s not an official state holiday, on May 29, John F. Kennedy’s birthday. That day also honors the other Massachusetts-linked presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge.
Then there are the states that mix in Lincoln, whose Feb. 12 birthday is 10 days before Washington’s Feb. 22 birthday: in Arizona, it’s Lincoln/Washington/Presidents’ Day. In Utah, Washington and Lincoln Day. In Colorado, Washington-Lincoln Day.
Several states recognize Lincoln’s birthday, separately, as a state holiday.
Ohio, which provided eight presidents, calls it President’s Day, though you’d think it would at least be Presidents’ Day.
No Southern states — and this will not surprise you — include Lincoln. But in Arkansas, it’s George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day. Who says there are no states’ rights?
I know. Too much to get your head around. But this is all to make a point.
Congress agreed to recognize our first president on his birthday. Fair enough.
According to the National Archives, his birthday was acknowledged before the holiday was made official in 1879.
The archive gets a little snippy, pointing out that “contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the president has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to ‘President’s Day.'”
So why the “presidents'” (or presidents or president’s) part?
Is it that someone decided if all the other presidents besides Washington weren’t included, they’d feel bad?
Lincoln makes sense. He kept the union together and freed the slaves. Hard to beat that and no one has.
But the other guys? Some were pretty good and did some impressive things.
But then there were the other guys — 41 aside from Washington and Lincoln — and I bet you can’t name them all.
U.S. News and World Report a couple years back combined five polls of historians and others who know such things to list the worst presidents of all time. Warren G. Harding rated at the bottom.
The story’s lead paragraph says it all.
“Warren G. Harding’s claim to infamy rests on spectacular ineptitude captured in his own pathetic words: ‘I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.'”
The subhed of his profile in the article says, “He was an ineffectual leader who played poker while his friends plundered the U.S. treasury.”
Ouch. Yet he gets to join Lincoln, Washington, and the rest in a not-quite-national holiday.
We’re talking about 43 guys — yes, all guys — of whom 42 were white, 42 were Protestant. Zero were of Latino, Asian, Italian, Polish or any other heritage — except Barack Obama and Kennedy, a Catholic — that doesn’t fall firmly under WASP.
None was gay — that we know of. Or atheist — that we know of.
Some didn’t make much of an impression on those of us who aren’t historians. William Taft — got stuck in a bathtub! James Buchanan — the only one not to marry!
Lincoln — again, kept the union together and freed the slaves — is right at the top. That U.S. News and World Report story agrees. He’s No. 1, above No. 2 Washington.
Others did things both famous or that we don’t even know about that made our country better.
But others pretty much showed up, played ball, then went home and got a library built in their name.
This isn’t just sour grapes because Maine never produced a president.
We didn’t need to. Would we trade George Mitchell, Margaret Chase Smith or Ed Muskie for any one of those guys? Harding? Millard Fillmore? Zachary Taylor? I don’t think so.
In fact, when is someone going to start celebrating Genuinely Great Men and Women Who Made Our World Better Day?
Producing a president isn’t necessarily a feather in a cap for a state.
Look at New Hampshire. The one president the Granite State produced was Franklin Pierce. (Third-worst, just ahead of Harding and Ulysses Grant on the U.S. News list).
Here’s what I know about Franklin Pierce after living in New Hampshire for 25 years: He had Edgar Allan Poe hair, his homestead is in Hillsborough (because I used to drive by it and was always like, oh right, Franklin Pierce) and his young son died when he was impaled by a board in a train accident.
Now I also know he’s generally considered, in an amalgamation of five polls of historians and others who know such things, as the third-worst president of all time.
Franklin Pierce College — before it graduated to becoming Franklin Pierce University — for a short time (a very short time) several years ago ran a TV commercial in which students sang its praises. One said something like, “I don’t know who Franklin Pierce was, but I sure like his college.”
That says it all.
The worst thing about Presidents’ (President’s, Presidents, Washington Birthday) Day is no one knows how to celebrate it.
The overriding message seems to be that it’s time to find a good deal on a car or major appliance.
In fact, the holiday is perfectly summarized in a Honda “President’s Day sales event” commercial that began running this time of year a few years ago in which Washington and Lincoln extol the virtues of Hondas to an R&B beat.
While Lincoln seems a little hipper and ready to party — Simon to Washington’s Garfunkel — it’s Washington who smolders as he sings, “I want to four-score a deal with you,” then knowingly purrs, “Who’s your founding father?”
When he and Lincoln croon together, “Talkin’ ’bout the red, white and Blue-oo-oo—Tooth,” that says all that needs to be said about February’s holiday.
Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at email@example.com. Twitter: @mmilliken 47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.