January 15, 2022

When I was in the Middle East during the 1980’s one of the local Bedouins was having a birthday.  The custom was for the honoree to give a party for friends and hand out presents for those who attend.  At first this seemed odd given my own custom of having others give me a party and presents.  I was told the reason for the reverse custom was for the host to share their own joy and celebration of life with those around them.  I was privately told this meant you only worried had to remember to get birthday presents once a year, and while you may forget the day of your neighbor’s birthday, you always seem to remember your own.  The custom meant no one felt slighted when others did not wish them well for their birthday.  That made a lot of sense to me.

When I looked online, I found there are currently eleven national public holidays in the US designated in Title V of the United States Code (5 U.S.C. § 6103).  These holidays apply to all federal government entities, and state and city holidays may be observed concurrently with federal holidays.  On June 28, 1870, Congress created federal holidays “to correspond with similar laws of States around the District … and … in every State of the Union.”  Although at first applicable only to federal employees in the District of Columbia, Congress extended coverage in 1885 to all federal employees.  Only three of these eleven federal holidays are associated with a birthday.  Two are Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday (January 15) on the third Monday of January and George Washington’s birthday (February 22) celebrated on the third Monday of February.  The last birthday is celebrated on Christmas, representing Jesus’ birthday.  Jesus is the only birthday that does not comply with the Uniform Holidays Act.

The Holidays Act shifted the date of the commemoration of Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February (between February 15 and 21).  This means the observed holiday never falls on Washington’s actual birthday.  Because of this, and the fact Lincoln’s birthday falls on February 12, many people refer to this as “Presidents’ Day” and use the day to honor all American presidents.  However, neither the Holidays Act nor any subsequent law changed the name of the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day.  Lincoln’s Birthday is still a legal, public holiday in some US states, but other states do not celebrate Lincoln’s birthday as a stand-alone holiday.  King’s birthday does periodically fall on the third Monday (between January 15 and 21), and since the celebration was commemorated after the Holidays Act it was never changed.  I guess we still have trouble remembering other people’s birthdays.  Btw: the plastic wrap keeps my favorite cake from getting freezer burn.

Thoughts:  Many of the “art” projects I remember from grade school were coloring pictures to be displayed along the walls commemorating the holidays.  This meant pictures of Santa and Turkeys late in the year, and portraits of Lincoln and Washington during February.  At this point my concern was keeping within the lines.  My state was one of those who recognized and celebrated both birthdays.  Now when you check the State’s webpage, neither birthday is listed as a holiday, and while President’s Day is commemorated, it is not a state holiday.  I bet the kids are still required to color the portraits.  We remember special days to honor the ones who have gone before or the special ones who are still with us.  Do not wait for others to celebrate your birthday.  Use the Bedouin approach and throw a party for others.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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