America's literary strong suit has always been humor. It's when they reach for rectitude that Americans become comic. Take holidays. In February we try to honor our presidents, but we can't figure out which ones we pay tribute to or even how to spell the holiday.
Is it Presidents Day or President's Day or Presidents' Day?
Life used to be simpler. George Washington, the father of our country, was celebrated on his birthday, Feb. 22. But society has all but erased the accomplishments of the most dynamic figure to ever walk on the American stage. Beginning in 1971, we spinelessly designated the third Monday in February as Presidents' Day.
A perfect fit for auto dealers!
One school of thought holds that Presidents' Day now honors both Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Horsefeathers! It would seem the celebrations of our two greatest presidents are now dictated by auto dealers and department stores that lobbied for one super February holiday to boost mid-winter sales. One senses a case of commerce driving history and holidays, the result being that neither of our greatest president's birthdays is celebrated on the dates they were born (Lincoln was born on Feb. 12).
In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, there were also attempts to celebrate and consolidate Presidents' Day into a kind of American political stew pot with regional variations. In Massachusetts, the day honors occupants of the White House who hailed from there: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and John Kennedy.
In Virginia there is no Presidents' Day. It's legally only George Washington's birthday.
In Alabama, Presidents' Day honors George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But it does have a second faux president's day: Jefferson Davis's birthday on June 3. Davis was president of the Confederate States of America and is best remembered for advocating the violent overthrow of the Constitution of the United States.
If you're not already persuaded that lumping together holidays is a bad idea, consider March 8. It's International Women's Day, National Nasty Day, and my wife's birthday. My wife was only mildly amused at the coincidence.
Fraught with miscalculations
Holidays or holy days are by definition fraught with miscalculations. Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas in January, Western Christians in December, and the early Christians didn't celebrate Jesus' birthday at all because it smacked too much of paganism.
Indeed, our entire Western calendar may be off by four years, making Jesus' actual birthday sometime in 4 BC. But as any enterprising old journalist will tell you, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."
Americans have come to celebrate national mistakes. Christopher Columbus thought he sailed to India. When the late New Jersey Congressman Peter Rodino was pushing through a bill to make Columbus Day a federal holiday, I asked the Italian-American why he wanted to celebrate that greatest navigational blunder in history. Hadn't the Vikings and allegedly even the Chinese arrived here first? So why not a Leif Erickson Day or an Emperor Zheng He Day? Poor Columbus got the holiday but another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, walked off with the grand prize: A majority of the Western Hemisphere was named for him.
Why not abolish a few?
We could certainly abolish several holidays. After all, almost no one remembers Quinquagesima Sunday. That's the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the day you discovered which of your schoolmates were Roman Catholic because they had black smudges on their foreheads.
We no longer need the titillation of Valentine's Day. We are already hypertitillated by TV sitcoms, oversexed politicians, and sexting. Is there any life left in All Saints Day?
We might as well abolish Labor Day, too. Unions are out of favor. Conservative America blames unions, (not incompetent Detroit management or Japanese manufacturing genius), for the destruction of the American auto industry.
We do, however, need greater recognition of April Fools' Day.
We're the ones who foolishly believed banks didn't need regulating, Wall Street didn't need watching, and that it was better to spend than to save.
And yes, the tooth fairy really does leave quarters under your pillow.
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