How Presidents Really Spend Birthdays — Hint: Not shopping

The President’s Day sales have ended, which means we’ve moved past the celebration of several U.S. Presidents on the third Monday of February. While this blog has previously shared several presidents’ lack of enthusiasm for birthday pomp and circumstance, a Washington Post columnist this year shared some great findings about just how nonplussed these guys were with their birthdays each year.

Consider George Washington: When he turned 28, he spent his birthday building a fence around his peach trees). As he got more distinguished, though, others couldn’t resist celebrating him. At his 46th birthday, a group of Revolutionary War soldiers surprised him by playing fife and drums outside his quarters at Valley Forge. One hopes the enemy was not within earshot (talk about giving away your location!).

T.J. — the man of the tall hat — wasn’t a big birthday fan either.  He reportedly said the only birthday he believed in celebrating was the nation’s. Jefferson wrote the Attorney General while president declining to let his “birthday be known” and stating he had also “engaged [his] family not to communicate it.”

Modern Presidents Embrace the Pomp 

At least FDR embraced some fun while in the White House. For his 52nd birthday, Franklin Roosevelt hosted a toga party and dressed as Caesar. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt dressed as the Oracle of Delphi, and other guests wore white robes and Grecian headbands.

FDR was also honored by 52 dancing girls carrying electrical candles and making themselves into the shape of a cake before singing Happy Birthday.

John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday also prompted a big celebration in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens. One of the most memorable moments was Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of Happy Birthday Mr. President. Her dress also garnered attention — she had to be literally sewn into the backless gown she wore in front of 15,000 guests (Mrs. Kennedy was noticeably absent).

JFK, onstage afterwards, said: “I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”

Bill Clinton brought his 50th birthday festivities to New York as well, with a celebration cum Democratic fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall. The event raised $10 million for the party in 1996.

President Barack Obama was a bit more moderate when he celebrated his own milestone birthday at the White House. He celebrated turning 50 with an outdoor barbecue in the Rose Garden followed by music and dancing. The guest list did include some luminaries, though: Rapper Jay-z and actor Tom Hanks attended and Stevie Wonder provided a serenade.

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