What is Presidents Day? A big sale at the mall? What it is not, however, is a celebration honoring George Washington, a giant of history. Presidents Day has moved him to the margins. In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved the holiday of Washington’s Birthday (Feb. 22) to the third Monday in February. Many regions of the country started calling this Presidents Day to also mark Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. We now have all the presidents being honored, yet none has a face. Presidents Day has little historical meaning.
At some of our history’s most critical moments, when extraordinary leadership was required, Washington’s greatness showed. He led the army to victory and independence from Great Britain. Had he not, who knows? He later became the new republic’s first president, demonstrating that its most powerful figure did not have to be a monarch.
Some states still name the holiday Washington’s Birthday. All states should. TV specials, school and historical celebrations should highlight the day.
Every January, we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., another extraordinary leader. His work helped civil rights become laws that have greatly expanded equality and opportunity here. If his birthday became Civil Rights Day, we would diminish him and his cause. Many worked tirelessly for civil rights causes, but Martin Luther King’s face and name give the holiday and the cause greater visibility and meaning.
All generations will be more appreciative of history’s contribution to this country’s greatness if everyone and every state would call the national February holiday Washington’s Birthday. George Washington’s face and name give the holiday deserved significance. Presidents Day does not.