Da-dum, da-da dum, da dum, da dum, da-da dum. That little ditty has been played thousands of times, I imagine, as the ruler of the free world enters a room or addresses the nation. These rulers, more commonly known as American Presidents, have molded and shaped not only the place we call home, but essentially have had a helping hand in guiding the world for nearly three centuries.
From colonialism to western expansion, industrialization to the great wars, Vietnam to Iraq, these presidents have made the tough decisions, and we, as their loyal followers, have looked for a way to honor these great men.
The ultimate decision was to devote a day to them each year, where we reflect and pay homage to these great men, but it wasn’t always a unanimous decision.
For those old enough to remember, there used to be two days of presidential celebration in the month of February. One for the champion of human rights, good ol’ Honest Abe Lincoln, and one for the, can’t tell a lie, cherry-tree-choppin, George Washington.
School kids everywhere rejoiced the two days off in the shortest month of the year, while housewives reveled in the department store sales.
That all changed however, and I’m still waiting for the grammar school revolt in protest, in 1971 when then President Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon issued an executive order defining the third Monday of February as a holiday commemorating all U.S. presidents.
If you think that is the end of the story, it’s not, and actually it’s not even the beginning.
This soap opera of presidential proportions started way back in 1879 when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed into law a bill establishing Washington’s birthday, February 22, as a federal holiday. In 1885 the holiday was extended to federal workers in the thirty-eight states.
Now some confusion about Washington’s actual birthday still exists, but it relates to the switching from a Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which we currently follow. Washington was born February 11, 1732 under the Julian calendar, which for you trivia buffs dates back to Julius Caesar’s time of 46 BC, but just five years after his birth the new nation adopted the Gregorian calendar.
This new calendar made adjustments to the old calendar and more closely represented a true solar year. As a result the new calendar pushed Washington’s birthday to February 22.
This date was celebrated from 1885 until 1968, when congress introduced a bill aimed at benefiting families. The thought behind the bill was “that three-day holidays offer greater opportunities for families; and that Monday holidays would improve commercial and industrial production by minimizing midweek holiday interruptions of production schedules and reducing employee absenteeism before and after midweek holidays,” according to nationalarchives.gov.
This bill led to the third Monday of February being established as the day we celebrate Washington’s birthday.
Confused yet? Well we haven’t even talked about Lincoln’s birthday.
Lincoln’s birthday has been celebrated since his death, but where you live dictates if you celebrate it or not.
Because his birthday is not a federal holiday, states have the right to celebrate it separately or lump it into what is now known as Presidents Day.
Many states choose the latter, but a few like Indiana, the state where Lincoln lived between the ages of 7 and 21, celebrate it as a separate holiday.
The decision to celebrate both, one, or just plain Presidents Day resides in the individual state, but if I had it my way I would celebrate the birth of every President on their respective days, its only 44 days a year and everyone says they can use a vacation.
So there you have it, the reason why some of us celebrate Presidents Day, others celebrate Washington’s birthday, and the lucky few still get that extra day off for the Great Emancipator’s birthday.
Here’s a list of fun facts so when you’re raising a glass to the leaders of the past you can trump that know-it-all in your group:
• William Henry Harrison served the shortest presidential term in history. He also was the first president to die in office (pneumonia).
• James Buchanan, the 15th president is the only President to never marry.
• Ronald Reagan at the age of 69, was the oldest president to be elected to office.
• Washington is only president to be elected by a unanimous Electoral College decision.
• Washington’s 2nd inaugural address was shortest in history at 135 words.
• Van Buren was the first U.S. president born in the United States. The presidents preceding Van Buren were born in colonies that later became states.
• Harvard College boasts the most presidential alumni with 6- John Adams, John Q. Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
• Woodrow Wilson is on the $100,000 bill, James Madison the $5,000 bill, Grover Cleveland the $1,000 bill, and William McKinley the $500 bill.