Many Americans eagerly anticipate and happily welcome the President’s Day holiday. Commemorated since 1971 on the third Monday of February, this federal holiday recognizes George Washington, the first president of the United States.
Ironically, it cannot possibly land on his actual birthday since he was actually born on February 22, 1732. There’s no way the third Monday in February can ever be the 22nd (thanks publicholidays.us for pointing that out).
But even more entertaining to me is the fact that the Founding Fathers were against pomp and circumstance that fostered a cult of personality. After all, the lavish celebrations of the monarchs in Europe were one of the things they were railing about in their revolution.
“Formalities and ceremonies are an abomination in my sight. I hate them in Religion, Government, Science and Life,” John Adams wrote to Jefferson (as cited in Lewis, 1976, p. 94..an out of print book on birthdays that I love).
Jefferson in turn wrote to James Madison of his concern over the pending excitement over Washington’s birthday:
A great ball is to be given here (Philadelphia) on the 22nd, and in other great towns of the Union. This is, at least, very indelicate, and probably excites uneasy sensations in some. I see in it, however, this useful deduction, that the birthdays which have been kept, have been, not those of the President, but of the General. (as cited in Lewis, 1976, p. 94)
Presidential Tradition Today
Still, it is not the General’s last words but rather the president’s farewell address that is read in the United States Senate every year in observance of his birthday — a tradition first started in 1862.
Nevertheless, those founding fathers worrying themselves about a presidential cult of personality fostered by birthdays needn’t have worried in the long run. After all, Presidents Day today is cause for a day off to shop great deals on mattresses, discounted cars and furniture sets.
Presidents Day sales are common across the United States and many Americans associate the holiday with vehicle sales because of the prevalence of discounted prices at car dealerships available during the Presidents Day weekend. More birthday marketing!