It's George Washington's Birthday. Why don't we have day off?

Contrary to popular belief, Americans do celebrate the Father of Our Country's birthday. Here's how.

Rob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP
J.R. Manship (left), portraying George Washington, walks past a pedestrian on Capitol Square in Richmond, Va., Monday, Feb. 15, 2016.

Monday is George Washington’s birthday, and there are lots of great stories out there honoring the Father of Our Country on his special day. Did you know he introduced the mule to America? We didn’t either. Also, that famous anecdote of him chopping down a cherry tree, “I cannot tell a lie,” yada yada? It might actually be true! Or at least its author had a larger point to make than “truth is good” – he was emphasizing how Washington’s character was shaped by his father’s top-notch parenting skills.

As president, Washington knew his every move would set a precedent for the nascent United States, so he was under a lot of pressure every day in every way. That’s a big reason why historians routinely rate him as the first or second greatest of all US chief executives.

You’d think someone that important would have a holiday in his honor. Kids in America used to get Feb. 22 off as a matter of routine. Why did that stop? It was a great way to teach them about the man’s many virtues, notes columnist Richard Benedetto at RealClearPolitics. He should have his own special day of honor. He shouldn’t be lumped in with Franklin Pierce, et al., in a vague “Presidents Day” holiday.

“The Father of the Country no longer receives the respect and honor he deserves,” Mr. Benedetto writes.

We could not agree more. But here’s the problem: George Washington’s Birthday, capital “B,” is already a holiday. He has the day. It’s just ignored as such by most Americans. The fault is not in his stars. It is in ours.

That is because there is no “Presidents Day” federal holiday. The day celebrated as a Monday holiday earlier in February is, in fact, “Washington’s Birthday” in US law.

Don’t believe us? Look at the US Office of Personnel Management’s list of official 2016 federal holidays. It lists Feb. 15 as “Washington’s Birthday,” with a little explanation that can be summed up as, “you can call it what you want, but this is what it is in federal law.”

Long story short: When Congress created more three-day holidays in the late 1960s, some lawmakers thought it would be a good idea to name the mid-February holiday “Presidents Day” to get Abraham Lincoln into the mix. But Virginia lawmakers balked. They wanted GW to remain primus inter pares, or something like that. They blocked the move and it remains Washington’s Birthday to this day.

But the holiday’s move proved fateful. Separated from Washington’s actual Feb. 22 birthday, it quickly became a more generic, denatured holiday; a celebration of auto salesmen in Lincoln hats on stilts.

It could be revived, though. What about this – a modern musical, maybe even hip-hop style, about the foundingest father of all? "Hamilton" is a huge hit. Wouldn’t "Washington" be even better?

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.