COMMENTARY: The President’s Day Un-Celebration — Honoring Not Just the Great, But All U.S. Presidents

If you’re not going to school or work today, it’s because it’s a national holiday. The country used to celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln separately, but in 1971 Richard Nixon and Congress, in order to create a perpetual three-day weekend, merged the two holidays into a brand new one called Presidents Day, to honor all U.S. presidents.

The end result is that we equate the lives and leadership of two of the greatest men in our history with those of a diverse parade of men ranging from extraordinary to mediocre, and noble to dishonorable. What’s more, we reduce this and otherdays set aside to honor crucial people and historical events to no more than a day off. I doubt whether you’ll be reading many articles or seeing TV specials reminding you of the magnificent character and contributions of Washington or Lincoln.

I fear that the failure of our government, our schools and our media to emphatically remind us about our roots in a way that nurtures both pride and gratitude fosters an unhealthy, self-absorbed entitlement mentality. Sure, we’ll gladly take the day off for Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and shoot off fireworks on July 4th. But we’re too busy or blase to pause to reconnect with our heritage and experience real appreciation for our heroes and their sacrifices.

Despite the initial surge of patriotism following September 11, I fear Americans are an increasingly ungrateful people, unwilling to appreciate what we have and why we have it.

And we wonder why our kids don’t appreciate what they have and what we do for them.

If we keep treating our most important values as meaningless relics, that’s exactly what they’ll become.

(Related posts:  Confessions of an Abraham Lincoln Groupie)

Comments 9

  1. Michael,
    I find it very interesting your last statement about our “values becoming meaningless relics” after so many commentaries you received last week concerning same sex marriage…. because in my opinion marriage between one man and one women should be one of the most important age old values that certain parts of society want to simply sweep away so future generations will somehow come to believe that anything goes when it comes to the family unit!!!

  2. I ambivalent about Lincoln.650,000 men died to preserve the union? Was and is the union that important? I think not.
    Had the South seceded as it had every right to do, having the total assent of its people, the union would likely have reunited eventually and the slaves would have been freed because slavery was no longer deemed to be morally acceptable in Western civilization even though it was acceptable in other civilization including Islam. The northern liberal protestants wanted blood, and they got it!
    650,000 men died to satisfy their blood lust. “Simil justus et peccator”, This theology leaves the individual feeling morally ” dirty” and he can onlu assuage his guilt by projecting it onto society as a whole, in this case southern whites.We should not celebrate Lincoln’s birthday. He is the worst president in our country’s history.

    1. When you say that the south had the total assent of its people, do you mean that the slaves and women gave their consent?

      Also, you talk about the blood lust of the northern Protestants. What about the Catholics who also fought for the North? Diversity in religion is not limited to our times.

      I wish I could be sure that slavery (and other evils) would go away with time and that people would come to their senses, but I think that premise is questionable.

      1. Sally,
        I agree with you regarding the slavery. For to long our country has discounted many. When we all learn that all men and women were created equally. Live by the Word of God and demonstrate a love for each other that does not separate, we will continue to have, what we have.
        Can’t we all just do right by one another? It would make our lives joyful.

  3. How sad that you didn’t research this. It’s simply not true. There never was a federal Lincoln’s Birthday holiday, although it has been celebrated in some states. The observance of Washington’s birthday was moved to a Monday in 1971 along with Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day as part of the Uniform Holiday Act. While an early, failed, draft of legislation would have renamed the holiday and made it to honor all presidents, it didn’t succeed. The federal holiday is STILL called George Washington’s Birthday. In the mid-80’s, advertisers began using the term “President’s Day” to push sales. Some individual states that had Lincoln’s Birthday holidays have combined the two birthdays into a President’s Day holiday or a Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthday holiday because the two birthdays are only 10 days apart, and the movement of Washington’s birthday to the weekend made them even closer. I don’t know of anywhere that this holiday is treated of a celebration of all presidents. I teach school, and we focus on Washington and Lincoln.

    It seems to me that the surest way to taint our history is by repeating inaccuracies such as this one. Character does count, and part of character is making sure that facts are reported accurately. That’s honesty and integrity, right?

    It seems to me that instead of bemoaning the fact the holiday supposedly isn’t being honored correctly, we could show character by honoring these men ourselves. A well-researched post praising Washington would be nice. 🙂

    1. Cheryl, I was going to comment on the sloppy premise since the actual holiday is Washington’s Birthday, which sort of takes the wind out of much of the commentary’s theme, but you expressed it much better than I could. I think criticism of our country is useful as long as it is based on a sure footing in actual facts, and points to some constructive corrective action. We may be “treating our most important values as meaningless relics”, but using a misunderstanding based on the Media’s fake news that President Nixon said the day was to “honor all presidents, including me”, which he never did, is not the way to make that point.

  4. I wonder about changing the name from President’s day to ‘Important People’s Day. In that way we can choose to honor people in our everyday lives, historical figures whether they were president or not, and any others we choose.

  5. Mr. Josephson,
    I love your website and I have used your commentaries, quotes and phrases in our school newsletters and teacher messages for several years and today is the first day I disagree with your commentary regarding the celebration of President’s Day.
    For so long, our children have been told how wonderful President Washington and Lincoln are? The work and abuse all Presidents endure, to me is worthy of celebration. Have we all made mistakes, yes! But to place only two presidents on a pedestal and get upset when people don’t feel they aren’t the only ones worthy of celebration doesn’t feel right.
    Mr. Josephson, I have only one word to sum up my feelings about those two presidents, “Slavery!!!!” They both owned slaves and I am sure they were not allowed to sit around the dinner table when supper was ready. As an African-American teacher and administrator, our children (all children) are not being taught the true stories of history. They get the glorified version of these men. When parents challenge the curriculum, many times we are asked not to expose these truths or comments such as, “Is that part of history need to be told.”

    Thank you for this opportunity to respond. I appreciate the support your work in the area of Character Education has supported our school. God’s continued favor and blessings always. Christina

  6. Thank you for this informative commentary. As a non US citizen I was not aware of the history of this. Although I see some commentators question the historicity of your claims, I think the point you make about the difference between honouring specific great men for specific reasons and honouring /celebrating every person who holds a specific office, and thereby weakening the impact and value of the honour holds true.

    I think that it is by no means coincidental that the president who wrote the “President’s Day” into law was one of the few who dishonoured the presidency by his behaviour, Richard Nixon.

    I am saddened by some of the comments under this commentary, especially that of George who thinks that same sex marriage (which has been endorsed by the Supreme Court as constitutional) as a moral failing. No, committing to love and honour a person you love and to remain faithful to that individual to the exclusion of everyone else is the opposite of a moral failing. I shall refrain from enumerating a myriad moral failings that I see in today’s society, suffice to say, same-sex marriage is not one of them.

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