Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, George Washington... Really

I am stasrting a tradition in The Burrow.  From now until I stop writing, I will celebrate Washington's Birthday on its proper date, and I will explicate the reasons by re-running this post. 
So, welcome to the 2nd Annual George Wasn't Born on President's Day post.  Enjoy!

280 years ago today Mary Ball Washington gave birth to a boy child. He went on to become a surveyor, a land owner, a distiller and, oh yes, the first President of the United States of America. Unlike many of the stories surrounding this man (think cherry trees and coins across the Potomac and standing up in an open boat as it crossed the Delaware) this is an indisputable fact. Mary was not in labor on the third Monday of February. She produced her child on a specific day - the 22nd day of February. His birthday didn't move around with the vagaries of the federal holiday calendar.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln met her second son, Abraham, 202 years ago on February 12. Like Mrs. Washington before her, she was not in labor on an indeterminate day sometime in the middle of the month. It occurred on a certain day,, a day formerly commemorated by school children and mail carriers alike.

Alas and alack, these fine gentlemen have been conflated into Presidents and their birthdays combined into a generic celebration designed primarily to afford employees the opportunity for a 3-day weekend in the middle of the winter. What was wrong with the old system, I wonder? As an elementary schoolkid I looked forward to those random days off in the middle of the month. One day, breaking up the routine. One celebration for each president - pennies examined on the 12th, leadership and lying (not) on the 22nd.

There was no time for a weekend away (not that G'ma and Daddooooo could have afforded to take us anyplace anyhow) and there was no competition between students for who went the furthest and had the most fun. It was an opportunity to go sledding at Bethpage (the Black Course was used for many things in my youth; this was the best of them) or to meet friends at the bowling alley and then walk to Smiles (our precursor to a 5-and-dime) where we cruised the aisles until our parents picked us up. It was grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon on the side, eaten on paper plates and accompanied by the admonition Don't Tell Daddy since the bacon was not exactly kosher and he cared a lot more than did G'ma. There were snow forts to be built, snowball fights to be fought, snow men to be built. The entire neighborhood roamed from front yard to front yard, creating and tumbling and finding warmth and drinks and the occasional bathroom in whichever house we happened to be in front of when the need arose.

And now? Now President's Day is always an event. It's a long weekend for which plans must be made. It has no intrinsic meaning, no relationship to George or Abe or any of their colleagues. Their faces are used to advertise white sales and car sales and furniture sales and The History Channel runs back to back episodes of The Presidents but that's about the size of the historical component. What began as tributes to great men has devolved into spending opportunities for the masses.

Am I bitter? You bet. A day off followed by another one 10 days later.... what better way to combat the winter doldrums than that? A random day, a day to cuddle under the blankets with your sweetie or to do all that laundry that interfered with your weekend plans and so still sits in the basket, mocking you. A day to explore the neighborhood and have lunch in that place you've driven by 100 times before..... a day just to be.

Sometimes, when I was a girl really was better.

5 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you. I know the exact date of Washington and Lincoln's birthdays. The kids now have no idea. Presidents Day? Which presidents?

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  2. Other than George and Abe, I've never understood why we need a day to celebrate the existence of ANY of them. (I wouldn't object to FDR's inclusion, or Jefferson's, but they were inconveniently born in other months, January and April respectively.) It's one of those lingering "We didn't like that one king, but we wouldn't mind having others" celebrations which feel out of place to me.

    (We already know that it's no longer true -- if it ever was -- that "anyone can become President!" But I wouldn't mind if we had a culture which celebrated the fact that "anyone can become a public-school teacher!"... and maybe outright required it, as a criterion for Presidential electability.)

    For someone with such a good-looking smile, you can also be an appealing curmudgeon.

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  3. It makes me sad that their birthdays have been relegated to one day and not even their real birthdays. I remember as a child, getting both days off and it was really awesome. We usually had snow at that time; so it was a great time to go sledding. I get disillusioned by all of the "holidays" to promote spending. It's probably one of the big reasons why I don't celebrate many of them. They have just turned into excuses to bombard us with sale flyers and promotions. :(

    Thanks for the reminder too about two great men that led our country and deserve their own recognition.


    Megan xxx

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  4. I hate all of these fake Monday holidays, but I hate this one the worst. My brother and George Washington were both born on February 21.

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  5. Very interesting post.Thanks for the information.

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