How to celebrate Washington’s Birthday holiday

February 15th, 2013

Monday is George Washington’s birthday holiday—or, as it is more popularly known, Presidents’ Day. How should we as a nation observe the day? Is there more to the day than mattress sales and a day off from work?

Americans in the past have certainly thought so. In 1832, the centennial year of George Washington’s birthday, Daniel Webster said that “a hundred years hence, other disciples of Washington will celebrate his birth, with no less of sincere admiration than we now commemorate it.” And a hundred years later, President Herbert Hoover proved Webster right: “Today the American people being a period of tribute and gratitude to this man whom we revere above all other Americans. . . . It is a time in which we will pause to recall for our own guidance, and to summarize and emphasize for the benefit of our children, the experiences, the achievements, the dangers escaped,  the errors redressed—all the lessons that constitute the record of our past.”

He continued

The ceremonial of commemorating the founder of our country is one of the most solemn that either an individual or a nation ever performs; carried out in high spirit it can be made one of the most fruitful and enriching. It is a thing to be done in the mood of prayer, of communing with the spiritual springs of patriotism and of devotion to country. It is an occasion for looking back to our past, for taking stock of our present and, in the light of both, setting the compass for our future. We look back that we may recall those qualities of Washington’s character which made him great, those principles of national conduct which he laid down and by which we have come thus far. We meet to reestablish our contact with them, renew our fidelity to them. . . .

[Washington] contributed more to [our nation’s] origins than any other man. . . . It was an extraordinary crowd, living at white heat, comprising men as varied, as brilliant, as versatile as the extraordinary demands which the times made upon them. They were men flexible in intellect, and versed in the ways of the world. Yet in every crisis, and for every role they turned to Washington. They forced upon him the command of Indian fighters; they made him a general against trained British troops; they demanded that he be a constitutionalist and a national statesman; they insisted he must guide his country through the skillful ambushes of European kings; they summoned him to establish the nonexistent credit of an insolvent infant nation. Why did his brilliant fellow patriots always thus turn to him?

The answer of history is unmistakable: They brought their problems to Washington because he had more character, a finer character, a purer character, than any other man of his time. In all the shifting pressures of his generation, all men acknowledged that the one irresistible force was the overwhelming impact of his moral power. Motives and men were measured by their stature when standing in his shadow. Slander fell harmless before him, sham hung its head in shame, folly did not risk to look him in the face, corruption slunk from his presence, cowardice dared not show its quaking knees.

In his integrity, all our men of genius in his day found their one sure center of agreement. In his wisdom and authority they found the one sure way to practical fulfillment of their dreams.

On Monday, as you remember Washington and commune “with the spiritual springs of patriotism and of devotion to country”—and, perhaps, buy a new car or mattress—you might also consider joining others in your community to celebrate Washington’s birthday. Here are just a few events going on across the country that you might take part in:

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