All of you 17 readers of this blog know that I highly prioritize understanding the “reason for the season“. That’s not a Christmas allusion, although Christmas is definitely one of those seasons for which I insist on forcing the kids into seasonal Biblicality, much to their dismay.
But our 3-day holidays merit reflection and comprehension in my book, too. My kids don’t JUST get to have a day off for Veteran’s Day or Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. No matter how abstract or morbid the holidays might be, we WILL be talking about them.
As a slight departure, recently, my kid streamed Newsies (the Broadway musical) at school. And she told me at dinner, “The kids were struck.”
Though I never saw it, I’m pretty sure Newsies is an admirably socialist story (cue McCarthyism)- especially for Disney – in which newspaper boys at the turn of the 20th century go on strike; presumably to dance with higher kicks on the streets of New York, given my quick glance at the video below.
My kid say, “The newspaper sellers were struck.”
“Close enough,” I thought.
That she even had the vaguest concept of the word, “strike” impressed me. Love it when Broadway introduces complexities into our kids’ lives without us having to step on our lecturing soap boxes.
Anyway – filing that away for Labor Day when I get to say “worker’s rights – you know – like in Newsies!”
So, anyway: back to asking my kids “What’s the reason for Presidents Day?”
This one is pretty straight-forward: honor our national leaders who bring us freedom, leadership, respectability, honor, progress, and protection.
Except at a time in life when we all question our leaders, look back on the dichotomy of goodness in our revered forefathers who were tyrants (Andrew Jackson) slave-owners (two-thirds of of them before 1865), philanderers (a vast majority, no doubt), and liars (all of them except Obama.)
Just the other day, my older kid said to me, “You know Donald Trump wasn’t the first President to be impeached, right?”
I responded (completely missing the point of her proclamation), “I didn’t even know you knew that word.”
“Bill Clinton was also impeached,” she said.
“I didn’t even know you knew who Bill Clinton was,” I responded, again: completely missing the point of her thoughts.
At a time when the presidency has been besmirched and degraded by unfathomable measures, I wonder if it might be time to alter the meaning (and name) of this holiday.
President’s Day began as a celebration of Washington’s birthday and was made an official national holiday in 1879. By the late 1960’s, congress changed the holiday (and Labor Day and Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day) to a “Uniform Monday holiday” providing for predictable Monday holidays. This law, signed by Nixon in 1971, served multiple purposes:
- Codified a 3-day holiday weekend for American workers.
- Spread these Monday holidays throughout the year to lower worker absenteeism.
- Conveniently provided a sure-fire way to increase in retail sales (so rich business types would be down for it, too.
- Included a provision to officially celebrate another February Presidential birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s, alongside Washington’s.
But given our current lack of Presidential nobility, along with endless re-discovery of our leaders, perhaps it’s time we made President’s Day about “Great American Leaders” day?
We don’t need birthday anniversary holidays for every single American of note, be they white, male, indigenous, female, of color or whatever. What if we had a holiday devoted to a value? (I know. I’m sounding dangerously conservative, here.) But like – a “Values Day” – a day where we think about things like the Scout’s Law or basic tenets of honesty, loyalty, or kindness.
Or hell, to be thoroughly American, maybe it’s “Liberty Day”. (Although, how would that differ from the 4th of July?)
I’d even be more inclined to have “Founding Fathers’ Day”. Aside from that itsy-bitsy awkward historical factoid of slavery (and their wealth, position, misogyny and snobbery) at least they didn’t start wars, assassinate Latin American leaders, or exploit foreign workers.
Scratch that. We’d be splicing hairs. Of course they did all that.
But at LEAST they happened to be in the right place at the right time to construct the world’s first democratic constitution.
Which was, objectively, a good thing.
At any rate, we currently have a holiday that most people think of as an extra day of skiing that’s devoted to 230 years of men who frequently did horrible things.
Maybe it’s time to update? What’s the point and not just the reason for Presidents Day?
Regardless, given all the mental gymnastics it takes me to discuss (with myself) the meaning behind President’s Day, we can all recognize there’s a lot to ponder and question around a dinner table on a Monday night with our children.
No matter which way you look at it (or which political side of the aisle from whence you hail) any discussion of context, history, ideas and values means parenting for good.