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Jewish World Review
Feb. 20, 2006
/ 22 Shevat, 5766
Q&A for Presidents Day 2006
There seems to be some confusion around the meaning of Presidents Day, so I assembled some frequently asked questions and answers to help set the record straight.
Q: I thought Presidents Day was originally set aside to celebrate George Washington's birthday?
A: That is correct. Presidents Day used to be commonly referred to as Washington's birthday, and it was celebrated on Feb. 22, the day Washington was born. We celebrate his birthday because of his heroism in the Revolutionary War and also the precedent he set as first president. Some urged him to assume the role of a king, but he was adamant that all political power be distributed among the people. In fact, America began honoring Washington on his birthday before he became president.
Q: All great presidents leave behind quotes that sum up what they were about. What do you think that quote would be for Bill Clinton?
A: That's a tough one, but this is one of my favorites: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
Q: Why did we start celebrating Lincoln's birthday on the same day we celebrate Washington's birthday?
A: Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, the same month as Washington. Since Lincoln was a great man, too - he kept America together by fighting the Civil War - his contributions also warrant an annual celebration. In fact, many state and local governments have long celebrated Lincoln's birthday. When Presidents Day was established in 1971, many state and local governments started celebrating Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays on the same day.
Q: How did Thomas Jefferson, another great president, acquire the Louisiana Territory from the French?
A: Jefferson was a highly educated and very clever man. He told the French that if they didn't hand over the territory, he was going to invade Iraq.
Q: I'm confused. What exactly is Presidents Day?
A: The more generic term Presidents Day dates to 1971, when the Uniform Holidays Bill became law. Its intent was to honor both Washington and Lincoln on the same day. It also moved Washington's birthday from Feb. 22 to the third Monday of every February. This way, federal employees would enjoy a three-day weekend, instead of having a lousy day off in the middle of the week. Somewhere along the line, some people began to celebrate all presidents, not just Washington and Lincoln.
Q: Since some presidents were louts and con artists, shouldn't we avoid honoring all presidents on Presidents Day? Why can't we honor only Washington and Lincoln?
A: Interesting thought. According to snopes.com, a bill was introduced in Congress called the Washington-Lincoln Recognition Act of 2001. It proposed that Presidents Day be referred to as Washington's birthday, and that the president issue a proclamation every year to recognize and observe Lincoln's birthday. But the bill was never passed into law.
Q: As is the case with many of our official government holidays, I fear that Presidents Day has lost the true meaning of what we should be celebrating. Can you define what its meaning is today?
A: Unfortunately, I agree with you. When I was a kid everyone knew who Washington was and what he accomplished, but few kids know about him today - few understand how unique our political system is and how the incredible bounty we enjoy can be laid at the feet of Washington. Thus, all that Presidents Day is for a lot of folks is the best day of the year to get good deals on furniture and linen.
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© 2006, Tom Purcell