How To Observe Presidents Day: Don’t Work. Beyond That, I’m Not Sure.

Is it just me, or is Presidents Day easily the least emotionally inspiring of our holidays? Oh, sure, I always choke up a little whenever I or my wife get paid for not going to work. That’s a beautiful, even inspiring thing. But beyond that, I’m not even sure what Presidents Day is. I know that when I was a kid, the point of Presidents Day was to sit in class, stare at a colorful cut-out head of George Washington’s profile, and try not to make fun of his hair. Why, I wondered, did men in those days wear old lady wigs? Did all the men do it, or just the presidents? Did we used to elect presidents who dressed like women? We only had his head to stare at, but I assumed George Washington also wore a dress. What else could I think? It’s not like he was gonna wear that hair with a suit. And this was in the late sixties, so I always had to picture our first president in a mini-skirt. With a kicky little hand purse.

Later, we had to stare at the head of George Washington and Abe Lincoln, and think about how great it was that they were born. But that always brought to mind a baby with Abe Lincoln’s face, and forget that. So then I would wonder when white wigs for men went out of fashion, and top hats and crazy Amish beards became the rage. What a weird switch. I knew it was better than the lady hair with the beard, though. No question there.

Anyway, to this day I don’t really get Presidents Day. I don’t know if it’s for George Washington’s birthday, or Abe Lincoln’s birthday, or for the birthday of all Presidents, or what. So what I do, is make a point of at least thinking about how cool it is that George Washington didn’t lie about cutting down that cherry tree.

“Yeah, I did it,” I imagine him boldly proclaiming. “Now can you help me with my mascara?”

No. But then I think about Abe Lincoln, living in a log cabin, reading at night by firelight. When I was a kid, I learned that Abe Lincoln learned to write by writing with burned sticks on the back of a shovel. And I used to think, “I can’t believe they kept a shovel in their living room. Were they digging holes right there in their house? How cool! I wish we could keep a shovel in our living room.” Then I used to think how there was no way a teacher could object if I turned in a homework assignment on the back of a shovel. “But Lincoln did it,” I’d say. “Don’t you want me to be a great as Abe Lincoln?”

Anyway, I think the main thing about Presidents Day is to remember that on this day, we should all take a one or five dollar bill, stare at George Washington or Abe Lincoln’s face, and reflect upon how great it is to live in a country where you can get paid for not going to work. If getting paid without working doesn’t say “President,” I just don’t know what does.

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  • Burt

    From antiquity—when growing up in Illinois, both Feb. 12 and Feb 22 were observed. "Observed meant school was "out". We recognized and learned about two outstanding leaders in the journey of this Country. Was the change in 1968 due to an efficiency expert, difficulty in scheduling holiday sales, or the drive for 3-day weekends? Who knows? One thing I know is "Not all presidents are equal" Burt

  • I used to believe those wigs were their actual hair. Somewhere between the 60s and your post I figured it out. But then I was like you, WIGS?!?!

    Our employer is so moved by President's Day holiday, they decided to cancel it. So here I am getting pained to honor our presidents by reviewing and commenting on inspirational posts such as yours!

  • John,

    The children and I were going to observe Presidents Day by going to Mount Vernon. The local newscasters blew that by announcing to everyone that this is the only day of the year featuring free admission to Mount Vernon.

    So I took my son, 10, to the batting cages where I parted with Lincoln and Washington. My daughter, 6, went on a pilgrimage to a huge pet store. There, she worshiped the cuteness of the hamsters and gerbils.

    Once home, the kids began watching a 3-2-1 penguins dvd. I used my paid holiday to once again tackle written exercises in the book to the right – Midlife Manual for Men. There's not a shovel around here to write on, though, unless you count the shovelhead Harley parked down the block. Think I best leave that one alone.


  • As a mom living in Illinois, I have learned that the schools can petition the state to use President's Day in place of Lincoln's Birthday as a holiday. Fortunately for me, as a working mom, this means I only have to find alternative care for my school-aged son on one day in February. Of course, come March we also observe an even more random holiday, Casimir Pulaski Day, apparently due to the large Polish population in the Windy City. Somehow, those days off were more exciting to me in my pre-offspring days as a teacher…

  • Mona

    I'm retired – so getting this day off means zilch to me. 🙂

    Don't worry folks, I don't wear George Washington old lady wigs even on Presidents day.

    Actually, I am working today- I write on a very large, up and coming site for which I earn enough to file a 1099…but when you love your job, it's different, isn't it?

  • I think the shovel thing is the reason someone invented outhouses and later indoor toilets. When people were as poor as Abe Lincoln's family, they learned to clean off the shovel for economic and intellectual purposes too. That was real frugality and thrift. I could be wrong, though.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was in need of a good, roll-on-the-floor laugh. I knew if I popped over here I would get one.

    Thanks! 🙂

  • I worked today. My wife worked today.

    President's Day was just like any other.

    But the recycling didn't get picked up. Oh well.

  • Ann

    Presidents Day to me means that the commute along the principal freeway I take to work every day will be significantly shorter.

    I always got confused about the cherry tree and who really chopped it down. After all, don't we call him "Old Honest Abe"? Maybe ALL presidents had a pivotal moment in their childhoods which involved axes and cherry trees.

  • Taryn

    Just so you know, I was watching a movie today about President's Day (subbing at the local middle school), and they said on the movie that Washington's hair was real, and that he put powder on it to make it look like that. The only thing fake about him, the movie said, was his teeth.

    And for Lincoln, we made log cabins with a penny in the window (like Lincoln was looking out). So, that is how I celebrated President's Day today.

  • I like to celebrate Presidents' Day by talking about James K. Polk, William Henry Harrison, Chester A. Arthur, and other names that more or less solidify my title of "geek."

    Like I need any help solidifying that title …

  • "And this was in the late sixties, so I always had to picture our first president in a mini-skirt. With a kicky little hand purse."

    I almost died when I read that. It's all your fault! XD

  • I meant to comment earlier, but I almost broke a rib laughing and had to lay down. 😀

  • I'm still laughing! Thanks. I used to think that was real hair too, and I wondered why they all wanted to look like old men. So true…

    If getting paid without working doesn’t say “President,” I just don’t know what does!