George Washington as featured on the U.S. Dollar.

George Washington on the US $1 Dollar Bill.

Merry Presidents’ Day!

That sounds weird, doesn’t it? Then again, it doesn’t sound much stranger than Happy Presidents’ Day!

This is the kind of holiday that no matter how well intentioned when originally implemented in 1879 as George Washington’s Birthday and celebrated on his actual birth date of February 22, has become less and less focused over the years. In 1971, it was moved to the third Monday in February, and in the 1980s it became known as Presidents’ Day to also honor Abraham Lincoln. Now many people view it as a holiday to honor all presidents of the United States.

Unlike other holidays, it’s not a gift-giving occasion. It’s not a day for parades or fireworks or picnics. It’s a day off of work—or not. It’s not even a day for reflection.

In a decidedly unscientific survey, I asked people I know what Presidents’ Day means to them. Among the answers were car sales, no mail delivery, appliance sales, closed banks, mattress sales, and, in a subtle nod to George Washington, cherry pie. One friend even asked if the holiday is meant to include Richard Nixon. A good question for which I have no answer.

Several friends pointed out that this holiday was more significant when we were in elementary school and prepared for the occasion by cutting out construction-paper silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln and re-enacting the myth of Washington chopping down the cherry tree. (Yep, we were taught the importance of honesty by the telling of a story that was pure fiction.)

But thinking back on those more innocent days, I remember clearly that our teachers and our parents told us that the beauty of the U.S. democracy was that anyone who was born here could grow up to be president. Of course, neither of my parents would have ever considered voting for a female candidate for president. Yet they encouraged my sister and me to study hard so we could grow up to be president—if we wanted to.

Today the idea of being president holds no appeal for me at all, and I doubt that my sister would find any enjoyment in the job. Don’t get me wrong; either one of us would look marvelous on postage stamps, U.S. currency, or Mount Rushmore, but now we have a greater appreciation of the complexity, the sacrifices, and the heartache that go along with being commander in chief. I can admit with no shame that my skill set is not a good match for the presidency.

Happily, as we approach the 2016 election, there are a number of talented women who still hold the dream of becoming president and who have the experience and skills to support reasonable expectations of succeeding if they should be elected.

But no matter who is elected president in 2016, we’ll still have this holiday called Presidents’ Day. And it will still be marked in less-than-presidential ways.

This year, as Time magazine reports, the movie 50 Shades of Grey is breaking records for the Presidents’ Day Weekend box office revenue. So maybe this holiday is about mattresses after all.

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  • Diane Dettmann February 16, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Sure hope a woman gets elected president soon. It’s due time! That would be a day worthy of a huge parade and construction-paper silhouettes !

  • Roz Warren February 16, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Hillary 2016! Or maybe Elizabeth Warren. Or BOTH. They’d both make fabulous presidents. And postage stamps.