As I suited up in my Revolutionary War reenactment uniform and went for a stroll with my bayonet on President’s Day eve, I wondered why we’re not on holiday this week, when we could better concentrate our energies on the foundation of our remarkable democracy. When more and more Cornellians looked at my festive garb with scorn and confusion, I realized that perhaps we celebrated President’s Day differently where I grew up — on the Upper West Side of New York City. But is there a right or wrong way to celebrate a holiday?
Those who hold eating Turkey on Thanksgiving sacrosanct will now holler, “Surely, Jacob, you cannot be serious. Even the veggiest of vegetarians chow down on Tofurkey!” And they’re absolutely right. Consider the thought bubbles that most likely bore the first popular holiday each February: “I, the proud owner of a pleasantly plump, burrowing prognosticator named Phil, believe the arrival of spring is predicated upon my rodent’s reactions to the clouds and the sun. Phil’s 39 percent success rate in the last 115 years is hardly a legitimate meteorological sample size of his expertise, considering he will live forever. I propose we name the calendar date after Phil’s species to pay more earnest attention to his prophesies.”
So perhaps the question is, what makes a holiday in the first place — food, feast or fast? The birth, death or life of a people, a relationship or a nation? Just what criteria make the fine people of Hallmark nod their heads? The fine people working in Washington D.C give us a day off?
Clearly we take our annual federal, work-stoppage holidays — New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas — more seriously than Groundhog Day. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with even a diffuse theme that runs through all ten of these religious, cultural or historical days — perhaps the only one is deep-seated American tradition, but there’s nothing un-American about celebrating Feb. 22’s own National Margarita Day; work hard, happy-hour hard.
Some holidays just bleed red white and blue. The case for President’s Day seems simple: born on Feb. 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln steered the not-so-United States through the Civil War, and Feb. 22, 1732 saw the birth of George Washington, Mona Lisa of the $1 bill, lover of ballroom dancing and patriarch of the United States. But why not celebrate Franklin D. Roosevelt, another of our finest presidents whose birthday, March 4, was only two days shy of February? Further, why not celebrate the life of Amerigo Vespucci, Italian explorer and namesake of our Motherland, who died on Feb. 22, 1512? Columbus has one of those 10 days all to himself, and he thought the New World was Asia. Granted, we don’t want to dilute holidays — President’s Day needn’t call for celebrating Frederic Chopin or Andy Warhol’s deaths — but there wouldn’t be American presidents without Amerigo.
As per the Columbus/Vespucci principle, it seems senseless to dwell on why President’s Day is a federal holiday and Election Day isn’t or why our government can’t choose between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day — maybe it’s tradition, fear of change or not wanting to admit failure, but these are questions we plebeians can only ponder.
More important is the definition of a holiday, a word comprised of “holy” and “day” that, for Brits, can also indicate a recreational vacation. Holidays are begging for personalization, amendment and choice. If Ash Wednesday is holy to you, I hope you have an easy and meaningful fast today. Today is definitely a holiday for members of the U.S Olympic Hockey team that miraculously upset the four-time defending-champion Soviet team on Feb. 22, 1980. We could observe National Margarita Day or start a new holiday to raise 21st century American consciousness. Feb. 22 commemorates Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 to meet with Premier Chou En-Lai and open diplomatic relations, as well as the departure date of the “Empress of China,” the first US trade ship to China. If that’s too serious, how about skipping class tomorrow and turning the Arts Quad into a giant bed-sheet Fort in memorial of the snow fight that never happened?
Sound silly? Consider how widespread observance works. Between commemorating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, observing Lent, attending church services, wearing green and getting festive, how do most people celebrate St. Patrick on the most widely celebrated saints day worldwide? The day’s loaded with religious and cultural significance for those who observe it, but whether or not you go to church or observe Lent, dressing up like Shrek and imbibing green drank is encouraged.
Holidays evolve year after year, and the ideals and ideologies that once powered the day may be transmogrified to entirely different animals. Today we have another opportunity to honor veterans, a day for stores to hold sales and isolated birthday parades in Virginia, but there are definitely other ways to honor George’s birthday. Otherwise, the holiday is a celebration of historicity, our sheer ability to chronicle that Washington was born today, rather than a celebration of his life and the values he embodied. But if we care, let’s read from the canon of American history, go boating to celebrate the exodus from England, sound a horn to sing America the Beautiful at noon or eat strawberry shortcake with blue icing. The only way to keep holidays meaningful is personalization — everybody, every family, does a little something different on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Passover or the Fourth of July.
There’s no federal holiday until May 28, Memorial Day, when many of us are out of here, and the next popular holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, falls on spring break this year. I’d be honored if we could put our minds together and come up with a revolutionary celebration of International Pancake Day this Feb. 28.
Jacob Kose is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at email@example.com . Scrambled Eggs appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.