The Bar-On Brief: We need a name change

Americans are divided on who was commemorated this Presidents’ Weekend

By Shauli Bar-On, Columnist

The Bar-On Brief: a weekly column
The Bar-On Brief: a weekly column

An early release day on Friday and no school nationwide on Monday. Thank you, Presidents’ Day. Or is it President’s Day? Maybe President Day?

It really depends on who you ask because the federal government was unclear as to who exactly we should be commemorating on this said day. We need a name change.

Allow me to explain:

Illustration by Mila Sviderskaya
Illustration by Mila Sviderskaya

Prior to 1968, the United States celebrated George Washington’s birthday annually on Feb. 22. But for convenience, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act changed Washington’s birthday and shifted it to the third Monday of February.

Following the act, Americans now celebrate Washington’s birthday between the 15 and 21 of February, depending on which of these days is the third Monday.

Do you see the problem? The act did not change the name of the federal holiday — it’s still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” — but it is never celebrated on George Washington’s actual birthday.

So yes, we need a name change.

Maybe the new date planned for us to celebrate Abraham Lincoln and George Washington together since they were both born in February.

Since Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, the federal holiday can never fall on his birthday either. It is always celebrated between Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays. But the holiday’s name was never changed. All we know is that the change is supposedly more convenient.

Due to this “convenience,” the third Monday in February’s title is defined on the state level.

Illustration by Kira Garlick
Illustration by Kira Garlick

But the state interpretations of the day cause national disunity. Some states celebrate Washington alone, some celebrate Lincoln and Washington, others pick two different presidents and a handful stick with the all-inclusive “Presidents’ Day.”

Just look at this mess: in Virginia we have “George Washington Day,” in Utah we have “Washington and Lincoln Day” and in Alabama we have “George Washington/Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday” (Even though Jefferson was born in mid April).

California calls the federal holiday by its name: “George Washington’s Birthday” and adopted a statewide holiday on Feb. 12 specifically to honor Lincoln’s birthday.

To the federal government: create federal holidays for each president if you’d like, but don’t make every state pick out its favorites. Change “Washington’s Birthday” to “Presidents’ Day.”

Having each state decide which president or presidents they want to honor distracts us from the purpose of the commemoration.

On the third Monday of February, our nation is supposed to come together and honor all our presidents. It’s simply wrong for us to honor all presidents in one state, only a certain two in another state, a different two elsewhere and only one a few miles away.  

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in our nation’s capital. I saw the monuments of our founding fathers and influential leaders and I visited the American History Museum where we remember our nation’s great and enduring past.

I specifically remember viewing every flag in the city lowered to half-mast in honor and mourning of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Saturday.

These flags were proof that the country can come together to mourn the death of an influential leader.  

If we can mourn together, then we can surely commemorate together. Let’s commemorate everyone together in a Federal Presidents’ Day. We need a name change.

And with that, I rest my case.