April 20, 2024
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April 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Good news! This coming Monday is Presidents’ Day, which is hands down the oldest American Holiday that everyone forgets about until the week before. It’s a happy accident on the calendar. It’s like finding money in your sofa.

“I found a quarter!… Oh, that’s right. George Washington.”

The holiday was formed to celebrate George Washington, who is, to date, the only U.S. president that most Americans can name when asked to name the presidents in order. He’s also the only president whose pictures most of us have in our wallets. I don’t carry around pictures of my kids, but I have at least four pictures of Washington.

We’re not sure exactly when George Washington was born, but we know it was a Monday. That’s for sure. There was definitely leining at his bris.

Is that true? For me, Presidents’ Day has always raised all kinds of questions that I never actually asked as a kid because I was just happy there were no secular studies that day and I didn’t want to do anything to jinx it. For example, why do we have a day to celebrate presidents when we already have a day to celebrate the country? Don’t presidents come with the country? And why’s there no Vice Presidents’ Day?

Also, why are we only celebrating George Washington? Though I guess maybe that’s because he was the only president who was voted in unanimously. Any other president would be celebrated by, at most, the people whose ancestors voted for him. But Washington ran unopposed. He’d just defeated the British, so nobody dared run against him.

Other candidate: “In addition to being governor of my colony, I was also chief of the Shoshone Tribe, despite not even being Native American. Also, I use words like “Native American,” which is anachronistic but politically correct.”

George Washington: “I defeated the British in middle of the night in the dead of winter by sneaking up on them in the snow wearing newspapers on my feet.”

Other candidate: “…I would like to concede the race to my opponent.”

But what about Lincoln? Sometimes you see him mentioned in relation to this holiday, and sometimes you don’t. What’s up with that? Does the South celebrate Lincoln? What about the other presidents with birthdays in February, such as Reagan and Harrison? Shouldn’t it be like Tachanun in a chassidishe shtiebel, so that every time we get a new president, we get a new day? There should be, by my count, 45 days of the year that we don’t have secular studies.

That’s what I would have said as a kid, but also now, as an English teacher.

Also, as an English teacher, I really have to know: Is it Presidents’ Day, Presidents Day, or President’s Day? And what about Fathers’ Day? (Father’s Day?) This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

And then there’s the question of when it’s celebrated. In New Mexico, Presidents’ Day is on the Friday following Thanksgiving, when most people are observing Black Friday. As a professional humor columnist, I don’t think this needs a punch line. In Georgia, it’s observed on December 24. Unless that’s a Shabbos, in which case they pull it back to Friday the 23rd. I am not making this up. In Indiana, Washington’s Birthday is on the 24th of December unless it’s a Friday or a Shabbos, and then Lincoln’s Birthday is the day after Thanksgiving. I cannot stress enough that George Washington was born in February.

Most of the country, though, celebrates Washington’s birthday on the third Monday in February, which always falls sometime between the 15th and the 21st. So before we make fun of anyone, I should point out that George Washington was actually born on February 11 (1732), so Washington’s Birthday can never actually fall out on Washington’s birthday according to anyone. Oh, but wait: It turns out that Britain and all their colonies switched calendars in 1752, so what used to be the 11th became the 22nd! Which, I still have to point out, is after the 21st.

And yes, everyone had to run out and buy new calendars, and also switch their birthdays and anniversaries. They switched from the Julian Calendar—proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE—to the Gregorian Calendar—proposed by some guy named Greg in 1582. And they did this for a very good reason. The Julian calendar measured the length of a year at 365.25 days, while the Gregorian calendar measures it at 365.2425 days! Which doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it does mean that if you don’t switch out for 1,800 years, you end up like 13 days off. (The downsides of procrastination.) Though somehow, they got 11.

In fact, in 1879, they established the holiday on the 22nd, which is George’s actual birthday, arguably.

But then, in 1971, the holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February because getting a Monday off is more important than actually celebrating Washington’s Birthday on Washington’s actual birthday. This was part of The Uniform Holiday Monday Act, which pushed almost all American-based holidays to Mondays, except for Thanksgiving, which is Thursdays, and July 4, which has to be on the fourth unless we want to go through a whole thing. Because you could just push these special days off to Mondays, for convenience. Like if you ever forget your wife’s birthday and she calls you on it, you can just say, “No, I moved it to next Monday, for convenience!” But we haven’t heard Washington complain, so whatever.

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He also has seven books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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