MONDAY, FEBUARY 20: The federal holiday on the third Monday of February is officially called Washington’s Birthday, although most Americans refer to it as Presidents Day and assume it also honors Abe Lincoln. Making this even more confusing is the fact that Washington was born on February 22 in 1732 and Lincoln was born on February 12 in 1809—so the holiday is neither man’s birthday this year.
It’s true! Regional variations on this holiday abound!
In Arkansas, the campaign to revive the memory of civil rights activist Daisy Bates officially has added her name to that state’s version of the holiday. In other parts of the country, the holiday’s name and overall focus varies to accomodate regional preferences. Alabama, for example, adds Thomas Jefferson to the holiday (even though Jefferson’s birthday was April 12 in 1743).
Thomas Jefferson and Religion
Much has been written about Abraham Lincoln’s complex relationship with religion, and a few books have focused on the faith of this holiday’s chief namesake—George Washington. However, the most theologically intriguing early president was Thomas Jefferson. Just in time for this presidents’ season, two publishers have new editions of the famous Jefferson Bible, which ReadTheSpirit reviews in a separate story.
LOOKING FOR THE PRESIDENTS ONLINE?
One of the best websites to explore all of our presidents is, not surprisingly, the White House portal for presidential biographies. If you’ve visited Washingotn D.C., you also know that there’s a terrific exhibit on the presidents at the Smithsonian. The online version of the Smithsonian’s presidential exhibit also is worth a look. Of course, these days you can read history—for free—from original sources. Visit the Project Gutenberg website and search for any of the major presidents’ names. You’ll find a wide range of free-to-download books and shorter texts. If you own a Kindle, Amazon makes this even simpler. Go to Amazon’s Kindle store and search for George Washington: For free, you’ll find that you can read texts ranging from earlier biographies (including books by Washington Irving and John Marshall) plus various collections of his speeches and papers. Search for Abraham Lincoln and, of course, you’ll find his famous Gettysburg Address free for Kindle, but you’ll also find various early biographies and collections of his speeches, letters and other writitngs—all for $0.00.
PLANNING A MINI FAMILY VACATION?
Naturally, the biggest single association Americans make with Presidents Day is—sales. This is a huge sale day for auto dealers, in particular. And most other retailers also will bounce a few ad slogans off the foreheads of our early leaders. But here’s a tip for families: Many historical sites associated with presidents are free or offer discounts on Presidents Day. Mount Vernon itself is free to the public on this holiday. Check around online and make your plans.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.