Holidays · Monuments and Memorials

Why We Celebrate George Washington’s Birthday Today Instead of Friday

This portrait of George and Martha Washington is in the collection of the Merchant's House Museum
This portrait of George and Martha Washington and her grandchildren .is in the collection of the Merchant’s House Museum, New York City.

Time was when George Washington’s birthday, February 22, was a vigorously celebrated patriotic holiday. Here’s how Julia Lay, the wife of a New York City bookkeeper described the city in her diary entry of February 22, 1852:

A great demonstration. The bells were rung, cannons fired, and there was a general observance all over the city. Thousands of houses were illuminated and decorated with busts of Washington and flags were on house tops and steeples and parlor balconies.

Washington, “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen” was revered throughout the 19th century. In 1879, congress declared his birthday, February 22, a federal holiday.

But gradually the American Revolution and the founding receded into the distance, and the reverence the people felt for Washington in earlier years faded.

in 1968 George Washington’s birthday became a casualty of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, when an act of congress shifted the fixed dates of certain holidays to designated Mondays in order to give federal employees several three day weekends. Congress did not change the name to Presidents’ Day, but because the third Monday of February falls between Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and GW’s birthday (February 22), some people began calling it Presidents’ Day, and today it seems to be a holiday to honor all presidents, which in effect really honors none of them.

The third Monday in February never falls on February 22, George Washington’s actual birthday.

Holidays

George Washington, Father of Our Country—Oh, How They Loved Him!

"Washington and His Generals" from the collection of Th Merchant's House Mseum
“Washington and His Generals” from the collection of The Merchant’s House Museum

I know, I know, we already celebrated President’s Day, but today is really Washington’s birthday. (If you want to know why we don’t celebrate his birthday on his birthday, go here.)

Today we remember George Washington; we honor him and celebrate him (sort of), but we don’t love him the way the 19th century loved him and we should.  Not only did he lead the Continental Army to an improbable victory over the  most powerful nation on earth, but by first relinquishing his military commission and then refusing to continue his presidency past two terms, he insured that our revolution would remain true to its republican ideals. Today we enjoy the liberty and freedoms the patriots fought for, though regrettably we too often take them for granted.

In the 19th century, Washington’s birthday was celebrated with bell ringing, cannons, parades, fireworks, and grateful prayer. Countless images of him hung in public places, schools, and private homes throughout the land.

People then were close enough to the founding to understand in a very personal and concrete way the risks the revolutionaries took, the dangers they faced, and the part George Washington played in winning our independence and establishing our freedoms.

Several years ago I visited Mount Vernon with my family on Washington’s birthday. One would imagine that on that day his home would be overrun by tourists and school children who were on vacation. But no—as it turned out there were only three or four others touring the home with us. When we moved outdoors to the kitchen, the laundry, the stable, we were all alone. I should explain that the weather was absolutely miserable. There was no sun; it was bitterly cold and sleeting, which no doubt accounted for the lack of visitors.  Yet the weather somehow enhanced the experience for me. I could really feel the presence of George and Martha Washington in that place on that cold winter day. I will never forget it.

Holidays

George Washington, Father of Our Country—Oh, How They Loved Him!

"Washington and His Generals" from the collection of Th Merchant's House Mseum
“Washington and His Generals” from the collection of The Merchant’s House Museum

I know, I know, we already celebrated President’s Day, but today is really Washington’s birthday. (If you want to know why we don’t celebrate his birthday on his birthday, go here.)

Today we remember George Washington; we honor him and celebrate him (sort of), but we don’t love him the way the 19th century loved him and we should.  Not only did he lead the Continental Army to an improbable victory over the  most powerful nation on earth, but by first relinquishing his military commission and then refusing to continue his presidency past two terms, he insured that our revolution would remain true to its republican ideals. Today we enjoy the liberty and freedoms the patriots fought for, though regrettably we too often take them for granted.

In the 19th century, Washington’s birthday was celebrated with bell ringing, cannons, parades, fireworks, and grateful prayer. Countless images of him hung in public places, schools, and private homes throughout the land.

Born in 1780, Tredwell was a boy of seven when the delegates met in Philadelphia to  frame the Constitution. His generation was close enough to the founding to understand in a very personal and concrete way the risks the revolutionaries took, the dangers they faced, and the part George Washington played in winning our independence and establishing our freedoms.

Several years ago I visited Mount Vernon with my family on Washington’s birthday. One would imagine that on that day his home would be overrun by tourists and school children who were on vacation. But no—as it turned out there were only three or four others touring the home with us. When we moved outdoors to the kitchen, the laundry, the stable, we were all alone. I should explain that the weather was absolutely miserable. There was no sun; it was bitterly cold and sleeting, which no doubt accounted for the lack of visitors.  Yet the weather somehow enhanced the experience for me. I could really feel the presence of George and Martha Washington in that place on that cold winter day. I will never forget it.

Holidays · Monuments and Memorials

To Honor All Is To Honor None, So Here’s To George Washington On His Actual Birthday

This portrait of George and Martha Washington is in the collection of the Merchant's House Museum
This portrait of George and Martha Washington and her grandchildren is in the collection of the Merchant’s House Museum

Time was when George Washington’s birthday, February 22, was a vigorously celebrated patriotic holiday. Here’s how Julia Lay, the wife of a New York City bookkeeper described the city in her diary entry of February 22, 1852:

A great demonstration. The bells were rung, cannons fired, and there was a general observance all over the city. Thousands of houses were illuminated and decorated with busts of Washington and flags were on house tops and steeples and parlor balconies.

Washington, “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen” was revered throughout the 19th century. In 1879, congress declared his birthday, February 22, a federal holiday.

But gradually the American Revolution and the founding receded into the distance, and the reverence the people felt for Washington in earlier years faded.

in 1968 George Washington’s birthday became a casualty of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, when an act of congress shifted the fixed dates of certain holidays to designated Mondays in order to give federal employees several three day weekends. Congress did not change the name to Presidents’ Day, but because the third Monday of February falls between Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and GW’s birthday (February 22), some people began calling it Presidents’ Day, and today it seems to be a holiday to honor all presidents. Which in effect honors none of them. (And I would suggest that not all of them are equally deserving of honor.) Let’s face it: today Presidents Day is really Shopping Day.

And ironically, the third Monday in February never falls on February 22, George Washington’s actual birthday.