When I was in grade school we were taught that in February we celebrated two different great men – both United States Presidents. These two great men were Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, and the holiday we celebrated was Presidents’ (plural possessive) Day. In fact, we generally celebrated all the presidents during the month of February (one small caveat here…I attended Lincoln Elementary, so we always paid closer attention to our namesake).
So, when I think of Presidents’ Day, I think two special guys and then the 40-something other guys. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong. Chances are, if you went to school in the 70’s, you were taught wrong too, because the holiday we celebrate on the 3rd Monday of each February is actually Washington’s Birthday. As it turns out, I was ideally situated to be taught this, because 1971, the year I entered 1st grade, was the first year that Washington’s Birthday was officially celebrated as a federal holiday and the first year that Lincoln’s Birthday stopped being celebrated as a separate holiday (it was never a federal holiday). It’s also the time frame when some members of congress unsuccessfully attempted to change the day to Presidents’ Day (to commemorate all U.S. Presidents). So, it was a confusing time for new holidays and their names. Moreover, teacher’s across the country had already created curricula for more than one president, so who could blame them for getting as much bang for their buck in the month of February. Finally, to muddy the waters even further, every calendar in my library has “Presidents’ Day” printed on it (mental note, never, ever use a calendar as a reference source).
If you’d like to learn more details about the actual George Washington Holiday, there is a great web page at the National Archives. There’s also a fun explanation of where all the confusion came from at Snopes.com.
If you’re interested in learning more about our first President, then the library has quite a bit of information for you. Two new books, one biography and one fictional mystery, are really making their rounds at our libraries. George Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow, is the latest comprehensive (900+ pages) biography, and it makes every attempt to portray Washington as an actual human being (no cherry trees found in this book). On the other end of the spectrum, Brad Meltzer’s latest book, The Inner Circle, (currently on the New York Times Bestsellers list) is a political conspiracy thriller, in which George Washington’s old spelling dictionary provides all the clues.
The library also offers audio-visual items, including Washington the Warrior on DVD and His Excellency, a book on compact disc. For you completists out there, a more comprehensive search of materials on George Washington is here.
So, in coming years, remember that, though the many will claim it to be Presidents’ Day (plural possessive), it is really a President’s Day (singular possessive), and the President was George Washington (birthday, February 22, 1732).