What’s the big deal about Presidents Day?

Maybe I’m just becoming a curmudgeon (a distinction typically reserved for old men).

I’ve long decried the commercialism of Christmas. Then came Valentine’s Day (the ultimate made-up “holiday” – fortunately we do not get an extra day off work for it), Halloween lights, Easter eggstravaganzas and all manner of merchandise hawking.

There has long been a Presidents Day White Sale each year – get your towels and bed linens at a discount. (It was probably a Washington’s Day Sale a few years ago, but I don’t remember.) Typically, this hasn’t bothered me. It was just background noise.

But, for some reason, this year it really bothers me.

I just did a quick search for “presidents day history” – not on Google, but on a search engine that doesn’t archive and helpfully “remember” my searches – and the first result wasn’t a summary, or even a list, of how we can remember our nation’s chief executives, show respect for them or pray for them. It was this:

4 Days Only: Presidents’ Day Sale At Best Buy®, Fri–Mon. Shop Now!

The first result.

And in my inbox, where I receive various newsletters:

PRESIDENTIAL savings so big, I have to keep it a secret!

And …

Which “Washington” approves? Is it the dead president? Do they mean our nation’s capital?

And then …

FINAL DAY! Save 25% Honoring Your Presidents, VIP!

I had already been pondering this post for about a week, but the ad for the the sale mentioned above, in my inbox from a retailer where I buy some of my running shoes, rubbed my patriotic hide raw …

Especially when the PRESIDENTS you’re saving and “honoring” are DOLLARS, not PEOPLE.

… and I couldn’t fight the urge to rant, just a little. (Bruce and I even need new running shoes, but we’re not falling for this presidential deal.)

I realize that retail is tough, marketing and sales are tough, and each slice of the American pie is getting smaller all the time. We have an endless buffet at which to spend our consumer dollars. And I believe in capitalism. But this is a prime example of capitalism run amok.

However, in the interests of saving myself from curmudgeonhood, I’ve decided that full-blown rant isn’t what I want. (You’re welcome.)

I’d prefer to write a remembrance, a bit of U.S. history. (Disclaimer: I’m not a historian, just a U.S. citizen with an Internet connection and an interest in honoring our forebears. I’m choosing tidbits that are interesting and/or meaningful to me.)

  • For starters, even though we’ve come to know it as Presidents Day – the combining of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays (Feb. 22 and 12th, respectively) – the holiday is still officially Washington’s Birthday. “Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to ‘President’s Day.’ ”
  • In 1879, Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–81) signed the Act to Relieve Certain Legal Disabilities of Women, which cleared the way for female attorneys to argue cases in any U.S. federal court. In 1880, Belva Lockwood became the first female lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. … Hayes was elected Ohio governor for the third time in 1875 on a platform focused on the procurement of voting rights for blacks and on economic plans calling for a strong gold-backed currency. … After leaving the White House, Hayes and his wife Lucy returned to their estate, Spiegel Grove, in Fremont, Ohio, and the former president devoted himself to educational issues and prison reform, among other humanitarian causes. (Source: History Channel)
  • A century later, Jimmy Carter (1977-81), my favorite former president, is also known for his humanitarian efforts, most of which have happened since he left office. He and his wife, Rosalynn, have been involved with Habitat for Humanity for more than 30 years. (I became aware of Habitat in 1988, when I was in college, and I volunteered with Habitat for several years.) The Carters have been major supporters of Habitat and have built many houses with the charity over the years. While I don’t always agree with President Carter, I admire him (Source: me). Previously, as governor of Georgia, “he publicly called for an end to segregation, increased the number of black officials in state government by 25 percent and promoted education and prison reform.” As president, “he suspended economic and military aid to Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua in protest of those regimes’ human rights abuses. But Carter’s most notable foreign policy achievement was his successful mediation of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, leading to a historic peace treaty in which Israel withdrew from the Sinai and the two sides officially recognized each other’s governments” (Source: Bio). We won’t talk about the Panama Canal or the Iran hostage crisis.
  • I had never (to my recollection) heard the story of James A. Garfield’s 1881 assassination, less than four months after he took office. Read this fascinating account of his brilliant life – and his death – from CBS News’ “How doctors killed President Garfield.” An ironic detail:

On the scene at the train station: Cabinet member Robert Todd Lincoln. Present at his father’s death 16 years before, he would also witness the murder of McKinley 20 years later. “Of the four presidential assassinations, he was there for three of them … a pretty ghoulish distinction!”

  • Finally, our 44th president, Barack Obama (2009-present). While I disagree with much of is ideas and ideology, I don’t believe President Obama is the devil, and, if our nation is going to hell in a hand-basket, it’s not solely his fault, nor is it solely the fault of one political party (it’s the fault of all of us, individually and collectively). Today’s post isn’t about politics or finger-pointing; it’s about remembering and honoring our nation’s chief executives through the ages. No matter what political party you’re affiliated with – or if you’re anti-political – pray for President Obama and show respect for him; he has a tough job.

Today’s post is to help us all pause to remember that this day is not just a day off work (although I am grateful for that); it’s not just a day to buy new sheets and towels or $1 hot dogs. It’s a day to remember and honor. Let us do it together, as a nation.

Sidebar: I’ve found most of these histories by using ixquick and Google. Ixquick is somewhat of a bare-bones search engine: Just the facts, ma’am. Not a lot of fancy footwork. Google, on the other hand, tends to celebrate milestones, birthdays and historic events a little more flamboyantly – usually including a clever piece of art on its sparse homepage. Which makes it interesting that today Google’s home page graphic looks like it does on most regular days:

Google Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 10.29.04 AM

No dancing, prancing presidents, no cherry tree in place of the L, no stovepipe hat on the G. Nothing. Am I the only one who thinks that’s … unGoogly?




It’s been fun reading up on some of our nation’s presidents, and I hope these brief glimpses have whet your appetite for more. Take a little time this “Presidents Day” to do some of your own presidential reading. And if you find a fun or interesting fact that you didn’t find here, share it with the rest of us!

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