Kill Presidents Day

This past Monday, I did something all Americans should do on the third Monday in February — I reflected long and hard on the significance of Presidents Day. And I came to a profound conclusion: This is the dumbest, most economically destructive government-mandated waste of time ever conceived. The sooner it’s abolished, the better.

In the spirit of the holiday, I was lazy and confined my research to Wikipedia. I learned that the federal holiday honoring the birthday of our first president was first celebrated nationally in 1885 and celebrated on Washington’s actual birth date, February 22. Since then, the holiday has become increasingly disassociated from the significance of that day.

In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect and moved the observance of Washington’s birthday to the third Monday of February, thus ensuring that it never falls on the actual date the infant president-to-be triumphantly emerged from the womb. In the early 1950s, a committee was formed that recommended the establishment of a new national holiday, Presidents Day, to be observed on March 4, the date of the first inauguration.

Congress nixed the idea, apparently because lawmakers felt it would be “unduly burdensome” to have three holidays in such close proximity: Washington’s birthday, Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12; a holiday recognized by some states) and Presidents Day. The governors of most states decided to mark the occasion anyway by giving themselves and their employees the day off.

The states still don’t agree on what the holiday’s supposed to be about. To some, it’s all about Washington. Others add Lincoln; some also add Thomas Jefferson; and not a few consider it a day to celebrate every man who’s ever held the office — even Nixon.

So, in honor of the fact the office of the president exists, nearly every function of our government shuts down — including, most frustratingly, the Postal Service — as do American banks and financial markets. Is this what Washington would have wanted?

“George, great news! In honor of the day you were born and all the hard work you did to make our country a functioning democracy, we’re shutting the government down every year on a different day that’s more convenient for us.”

If the third Monday of February were a day filled with civic events and educational programs that truly made us appreciate the lives and times of Washington and Lincoln and other great presidents, I might be inclined to support it. But schoolchildren certainly don’t get that lesson. Instead, they get a whole week without any formal education. And as noted on Wikipedia, Washington’s Birthday became more commonly referred to as Presidents Day in the 1980s due to “a push from advertisers.”

Thus, the holiday originally established to mark the birth of the father of our country is now little more than an excuse for hucksters to dress up in hats and wigs and pitch cheap mattresses and used cars.

Another thing I learned: Maine does not officially celebrate “Presidents Day.” In this state, the holiday is officially called “Washington’s Birthday/President’s Day,” an inelegant and confusing designation (which other president?), second in stupidity only to Arizona’s decision to officially call it “Lincoln/Washington/Presidents’ Day” (in other words, “Those Two Guys and Every Other President’s Day.”)

States are free to add any president they want to the holiday, as well as people who weren’t presidents. In Arkansas, last Monday was “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day,” in honor of the civil rights activist. It makes more sense to let everyone make their own list.

Coming as it does just a few weeks after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I don’t think this holiday should simultaneously honor both a slave owner and the Great Emancipator. In my house, the next third Monday in February will officially be known as Lincoln/Roosevelt/The Other Roosevelt/Franklin (Aretha)/Dylan/Gaye/Redding/Brown (James)/Zappa Day. If I can afford mandatory health insurance this year, I might add Obama.

Seriously, though, this nonsense holiday is not good for anyone, especially Mainers, whose government, schools and financial institutions shut down often enough this time of year for a legitimate reason: massive blizzards. Business is slow-to-dead for much of Maine’s economy between January and June, so why throw a stick in the spokes of the wheels of commerce to mark the day Washington wasn’t born?

Where’s Gov. Paul LePage on this, the guy who’s so gung ho about announcing that Maine is “open for business”? And what about his fellow Republicans, who so passionately insist no able-bodied Mainer should shirk work for no good reason? Maine should lead the other states by rejecting this bogus federal holiday and others like it. Columbus Day comes to mind…

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Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.