Is it Presidents’ Day or President’s Day, a question that seems to have divided the nation in the great punctuation war being waged last week in the media. I will leave it to grammarians to settle where the apostrophe properly belongs.
Either way, as a historian, I think it an outrage the way we are now forced to celebrate George Washington’s birthday (so-called President’s or Presidents’ Day).
Washington was born on Feb. 11, Old Style. Or Feb. 22, New Style. Whether you use the Julian or Gregorian calendar (it changed in 1752, when anti-Catholic England finally accepted Pope Gregory’s 1582 decision to straighten out the calendar by adding 11 days to make the math come out right once and for all), it definitely wasn’t on the Third Monday of the Second Month, as Congress arbitrarily decreed in 1971.
To his dying day Washington thought of himself as having been born on Feb. 11, whatever the calendar said. In his last two Februaries, he wrote in his diary under “February 11” that he went to Alexandria to attend “an elegant Ball and Supper at night.”
Not that the first president would have been troubled by the obfuscation in dates. From what I know about George Washington, he would have celebrated all three of them. He was what might have been called in the colonial era, a party animal. He loved to party.
Nevertheless, I think it’s scandalous that Washington’s name has been downgraded, being dropped in our national holiday system. It prevents us from focusing on Washington, the man and the monument, his glorious achievements and his iconic presence in our history.
As a people, we Americans are history-impaired. We know more about such historic figures as Lady Gaga and Snooki than our presidents. When I was growing up, to most young people Washington was a white sale in department stores. It’s even worse today. Why bother wasting any brainpower knowing our history when you can look it up on Google?
It was bad enough when they dropped Lincoln’s birthday as a day-off holiday in some parts of the nation. But things are even murkier with this so-called “President’s Day” confabulation.
Does this mean we celebrate on President’s Day the birthday of George W. Bush? Or Richard Nixon? Count me out on both. But what about the other 41 past presidents? John Adams (Oct. 30). Or Martin Van Buren (Dec. 5). Warren Harding (Nov. 2). What are they — chopped liver? Shouldn’t they have their own birthday celebrations?
Sad to say, some of us think President’s Day is just an excuse for another three-day weekend. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as the cultural scholar Jerry Seinfeld might say.
The trouble with society today, let’s face it, is there are not enough three-day weekends. That’s what makes life worth living. A cursory examination of the calendar reveals there are still currently 46 weeks with the less popular two-day weekends.
I, for one, would be willing to stay home from work an extra day to commemorate the memory of Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president. Silent Cal really understood what it was all about when he said, “When more and more people are unable to find work, unemployment results.”
For this and other outrages against the memory of General Washington, our first “Prefident” — the f’s and s’s were reversed in ye olde days — today I am announcing the formation of the Justaminutemen, an organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of George Washington’s good name.
Marvin Kitman is the author of “The Making of the Prefident 1789.” “George Washington’s Expense Account” by Gen. George Washington and Marvin Kitman Pfc. (Ret.) was the best-selling expense account in publishing history. The media critic at Newsday for 35 years, he spent many summers in a tent at Hither Hills State Park.