The Irony of Celebrating Presidential Birthdays

The Prayer at Valley Forge

When I was in elementary school, we celebrated (that is we had a day off from school) Washington's birthday and Lincoln's birthday. Then, sometime starting around the late 70s, I believe, presidential birthdays were consolidated into one holiday: President's Day.

Quick aside: I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it dismisses the historical significance of specific presidents such as Lincoln and Washington. On the other, it means you are free to celebrate whichever president you deem worthy. And, to me, that kind of freedom seems quintessentially American.

Then it struck me this morning: Would Washington have celebrated his own
birthday? I mean, putting aside his rather taciturn reputation, I just can't imagine any president of that era celebrating a birthday. Birthday celebrations have a historical reputation for being ego-driven, non-Christian events. An early president might take the time to declare a national day of prayer and fasting. But light a few birthday candles? Somehow I doubt it.

I did a little (and by that, I mean 'very little') digging into the history of birthday celebrations, and did not find anything specific. If anyone knows more about the role birthdays played in the lives of 18th century Americans, I would love to hear about it.

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