President’s Day – Who, When, Why and What are We Celebrating?
Most people don’t think much about this annual holiday other than, “I like having a three-day weekend.” We’re going to get into the Who, When, Why and What about this very important day and provide some resources to celebrate it as intended.
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan all had birthdays in February but none fall on the 3rd Monday. The original holiday was established in 1879 to celebrate George Washington’s birthday.
From 1879 to 1971, the federal holiday was called Washington’s Birthday and was celebrated on his actual birthday, February 22. It was changed by an act of congress to the 3rd Monday in February to create an annual three-day weekend holiday.
The name of the holiday was never officially changed but tradition and advertising has now effectively changed the name to President’s Day. However, this was never intended to celebrate all the presidents or a few who happened to have birthdays in February. I would submit that the most important president of the United States of America is George Washington and this holiday is still technically called Washington’s Birthday (just not celebrated on his actual birthday).
This brings us to point of this post. What are we celebrating? George Washington is rightly considered the father of this nation. It was his character and Christian morality that deeply influenced his leadership in helping to form our country. There has been much written about Washington’s faith and most of it hardly quoting him at all. I would encourage anyone doubting Washington to be a Bible-believing Christian, to get Dr. Peter Lillback’s 1,200 page book, George Washington’s Sacred Fire.
In the darkest hours of the Civil War in 1862, the Senate started a tradition of reading George Washington’s Farewell Address on his birthday, February 22. President Washington’s September 19, 1796 Farewell Address has been an inspiration to this nation and is filled with profound truths and critical reminders. It was this act of the Senate which led Congress a few years later to declare the annual federal holiday celebrating his birthday.
Everyone should read this important document especially in light of current events. Washington addresses highly relevant themes in his 1796 address that are strikingly relevant today. He strongly exhorts all citizens to watch out for those who want to divide the nation. “The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize.” Washington warns that “internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed” at dividing the nation. He warns us all to be suspect of anyone who encourages lawlessness and tries to divide the country.
About halfway through his address he sums up the core pillars of the United States of America. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens… And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Washington understood that this nation was rooted and established on Christian principles and virtues and if we forgot those values or minimized them, we would all suffer.
In a time of divisions, name calling and demonizing those we don’t agree with, we need to take Washington’s words in his farewell address seriously. We must clearly and forcefully point out the worldview problems of marxism/socialism, critical race theory, gender confusion, “wokeism,” identity politics, anti-Christian bigotry and the secularization of our country. But we must speak these truths in love. As Washington models, we need to humbly practice servant leadership with a desire to remind American citizens of the virtues and values that have united us as one nation under God. The United States of America is in fact the longest running single form of government that the world has ever known and the greatest nation which has ever existed in modern history. There is a reason that we are so prosperous and successful. It is not only because of our pioneering form of government – a Constitutional Republic. It is not only that we believe in limited government, free markets, and private ownership of property. As George Washington points out, it is on the firm foundation of religion and Christian morality that this nation has thrived and prospered. If anyone should labor to subvert either of these pillars of the United States of America, it would be to their, and the country’s, detriment.
As you celebrate George Washington’s birthday this February 22, consider reading parts of his 1796 Farewell Address. We desperately need leaders like Washington today. Let us pray for more humble, servant-leaders, to rise up to positions of power across this great nation who understand how to lead boldly, uphold Christian morality, and unite us around those conservative Christian principles that have made the United States of America a “light to the nations.”