Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy George Washington Day

George Washington pop art by Brenda Johnson
I could say happy President's Day, or happy Washington's Birthday, but since I can sometimes be a stickler for accuracy, if for no other reason than to be contrary, I say happy George Washington Day.

Today is officially designated as Washington's Birthday (even though it's not actually his birthday), according to section 6013(a) of the US code that specifies holidays for federal employees. Although it is popularly known these days as Presidents' Day, the name of the holiday has not changed on the books; it was President Richard Nixon who first called it President's Day in 1971, three years after the Monday Holiday Law was enacted (in 1968), moving this observance to the third Monday in February.

So, just to clarify, Washington was born on February 22, 1732.

Mind you, I'm not objecting to the Monday holiday law or to taking this day to honor all (or as many as you like) US presidents, either. I'm just being persnickety.

Cherry note cards by Cindy Lindgren

But what I do object to is telling schoolchildren a fabricated story about Washington's childhood, especially since the tale is supposed to exalt the virtue of telling the truth. You know the story I mean, the one about the cherry tree. It was made up by a parson named Mason Locke Weems in a biography he published about Washington shortly after his death, and at some point was included in the McGuffy readers used in grade school.

I just remember learning as a teenager that this story wasn't really true and feeling a certain moral outrage at the hypocrisy of it all! Outrage, I tell you! Okay, that was mostly because I was a teenager when I learned that it was a myth, and so prone to moral outrage just generally. But, still: using a lie to exalt the virtue of truth-telling? I still shake my head at that one.

So, enjoy the day off if you've got it. Tell the truth. Eat some cherries.

(The images in the post are from items for sale on Etsy. The highlighted words in the captions will take you to the page where each is sold.)