Walter Rodgers: Is it Presidents Day or President's Day or Presidents' Day?

Roundup: Talking About History

[Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN. He writes a biweekly column for the Monitor's print weekly edition.]

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.

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....

comments powered by Disqus