So there I was, the morning after having returned from a trip abroad, about to step into the shower, when the man on the radio announced the closings for the day. The banks would be closed and the schools would be closed and the garbage pickup would be moved back a day. All because of the holiday.
Holiday? It was the 15th of February, which had not been a a holiday when last I left the United States a week before. In fact, there was not a recognizable holiday in any direction for a week and so I concluded, as any reasonable person would, that the banks and the schools and the garbage collection had all been closed or postponed in honor of St. Valentine.
I exploded. I fumed. This was the ultimate stupidity. What had come over this country? Here I was, broke and needing to go to the bank, but it was closed to honor St. Valentine, the patron saint of the greeting card industry. Of course I was wrong. Everything was closed for George Washington's Birthday.
Still, there is reason to stay angry. Washington's birthday is the 22nd of February. It happens to fall on a Monday this year, not the third Monday the law stipulates, but a Monday nonetheless. Therefore, the actual birthday could have been celebrated and everyone still would have gotten a three-day weekend. But more important than that, the holiday would have had something to do with George Washington himself. As it is now, it celebrates absolutely nothing.
Washington's birthday always has had a special meaning for me. For one thing, I admire the man himself, but then so do most Americans. But for another thing, his birthday follows by two days the wedding anniversary of my parents. To me, Washington's birthday served to remind me that I had forgotten my parent's anniversary and had better do something fast. As things stand now, I will not be reminded of my parent's anniversary until July 4, which we probably will celebrate this year in May or something.
I don't know why I am so offended by this monkeying with the holidays, but I am. For one thing, we no longer can anticipate a holiday. Armistice Day (oops, Veteran's Day) used to be Nov. 11 because this was the date when the armistice bringing World War I to an end was signed. Now, however, the date chosen is the third Tuesday after the second Monday chosen by the third person you meet. I think that is the formula, but if it's not, it's close.
Other holidays have been simlarly tampered with. Memorial Day is no longer May 30, but the fourth Thursday after the third Wednesday after the second groundhog. No one I asked knew if the Fourth of July is still celebrated on the fourth (it is) or on some other day. Labor Day, or course, never was a date, but just a thank you to the American worker from his pal, the boss. The others, though, were real dates and had real historical significance. Now, as T. S. Eliot once said in a somewhat different context, they signify nothing.
There was once a real random quality to the holidays that I liked. You never knew what day they would fall on. If Washington's Birthday, for instance, fell on a Tuesday, it was nice. You remembered George and thanked him for the day off. But if it fell on Friday or a Monday, terrific. You thanked George even more. This was a gift, a surprise, a delight that came to you by virtue of the greatness of the person or the importance of the event. In all cases, though, it was hinged to that person or the event, to a date that was important at the time. George Washington's parents did not give him a gift on the third Monday in February.
Now, however, holidays have become entitlements. They are like birthday and Christmas presents: gifts that may or may not have something to do with affection. It matters little. You have to give them. In the same way, Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Columbus Day have become like Saturday or Sunday, just another day off.
So, okay. I have done my research and I want those of you stumbling back to work after a three-day weekend to know that the 15th of February is the birthday of Susan B. Anthony, John Barrymore, Ron Cey and James Schlesinger. I don't know about you, but I took off for Susan B. Anthony's Birthday.
I hope Phyllis Schlafly did, too.