I’ve always had a liking for the way holidays in the US are categorized. There is a method to the selection of the days and it is very consistent too. But within this edifice, there is a quirky holiday. The President’s Day (or is it Presidents’ Day?) falls on the third Monday of February, the federal government says. Fair enough, I thought. I later came to know that this day is intended to be celebrated as Washington’s Birthday. Well, there are several places named Washington in the US (virtually one in every state). To add, it is the name of a State in the US as well. It didn’t make sense that all the Washingtons in the US would celebrate their birthday on the same day. So my mind turned towards the State of Washington. A State being an inanimate object, I was confused as to why a State birthday would be called out or written like a person’s birthday. Besides, it was confusing to make the connection with President’s Day. It turned out this was not being commemorated for the commissioning of any State into the Union, but rather as George Washington’s (First President of the US: 1789 -1797) birthday.
Oh dear, but Google says the birthday of George Washington falls on February 22. The federal government could easily have come across this information and fixed the date for the holiday. I know it is difficult to pinpoint the actual birth dates of people born in the 18th century, particularly when proper records are not available to verify. But in this case the date was clear, and there seemed to be no misunderstanding or controversy surrounding this. So, fixing February 22 was rather easy. The muddle in my mind only increased. Until upon further research I came to know that this is a day to be politically correct or rather ‘presidentially’ correct. Abraham Lincoln too was born in February (February 12), so rather than giving two holidays over a 10 day period and to not give ideas to the public on whether every President’s birthday should be a federal holiday, the notion of a holiday on the third Monday of February was put forward. And so it is that this interesting day is celebrated which is neither Washington’s birthday nor Lincoln’s. But just as President’s day or Presidents’ Day. A day to remember all US Presidents, is the ‘watertight’ explanation!
Needless to say, this defies all logic contrary to the other holidays in the US federal calendar. To top it off, some states celebrate Washington + Lincoln, some others do Washington + Jefferson while some others celebrate the day just for Washington. The head of state of any country is supposed to unify the country whether it is his/her birthday or God forbid, the day of passing to the afterworld. But here we have a nation at odds as to when to celebrate their first President’s birthday; a nation where people who think whether it would be a disrespect for other Presidents born in February, particularly Lincoln. Because the US is different from all other countries, they tend to do the opposite of what everyone else does. This is very evident in the way this particular holiday has been structured.
I guess there is nothing wrong in just honoring the first President of the US on his birthday on February 22. Lincoln and Jefferson may have been great Presidents but they were not the first. Their birthdays can definitely be celebrated but need not be a federal holiday. Simple! In a world where cross cultural differences come in the way of how we live and how we work, it pays to avoid confusion on why a country is celebrating a particular holiday.