Opinion

Sorry, Mr. Lincoln, but your holiday has become obsolete

Why we celebrate Presidents’ Day

Presidents' Day? George Washington's birthday? Whatever you decide to call it, the third Monday of February is meant to celebrate past and present presidents.
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Presidents' Day? George Washington's birthday? Whatever you decide to call it, the third Monday of February is meant to celebrate past and present presidents.

Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are our most revered presidents — no argument there.

But government agencies don’t need to shut down twice in the month of February to honor them, especially since plenty of private-sector employees don’t get a single paid holiday in February, let alone two. (Yes, we in the private sector can be slightly bitter.)

Not only are two paid holidays in two weeks a burden on taxpayers, it’s confusing as heck.

To wit: Lincoln’s Birthday is not a federal holiday, which means federal government offices are open and we get mail delivery that day.

State offices don’t shut down, either, but the local courts do, and so do county offices in some places, including here.

Some schools also have the day off. This year, they took the holiday on Monday, rather than on Tuesday the 12th, giving them back-to-back three-day weekends.

Lucky them! (Except maybe not so lucky for parents scrambling for day care.)

But, hey, this isn’t just about who’s getting more perks. It’s also about keeping our celebrations relevant and meaningful and inspiring.

As important as presidents are to American history, there are many other figures who deserve to be honored for their contributions, sacrifices and courage.

As Americans and Californians, we’re finally recognizing that.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a federal holiday in 1983, and Ceasar Chavez Day was declared a state holiday in 2010.

Both are celebrated with parades and speeches and volunteerism to honor the legacies of these two men.

Meanwhile, Presidents Day weekend has morphed into a shopping holiday — a chance to take advantage of deep discounts on cars and mattresses and TVs.

On top of that, there’s a lack of clarity as to exactly what it is we’re celebrating.

Is it the office of the presidency?

Is it all the presidents ... or just the good ones?

Is it Lincoln and Washington — who rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the presidential hall of fame — in which case, isn’t it redundant to honor Lincoln on his birthday and on Presidents Day?

Adding to the confusion, some agencies have kept the holidays on the books for contractual reasons, but they “observe” them months after they actually occur.

Cal Poly, for example, is “observing” Lincoln’s Birthday on the day after Thanksgiving, Washington’s Birthday on Dec. 23 and California Admission Day (the day California was admitted to the union as the 31st state) on Christmas Eve.

(Yes, Admission Day — AKA the Forgotten Holiday — is still a paid day off for some government employees. That, too, seems extravagant.)

Not that we begrudge Cal Poly employees a little extra time off at Thanksgiving and Christmas — there can’t be much to do when there are no students around. Plus, there’s energy savings to be realized when campuses shut down completely.

But why continue to pay lip service to holidays that are growing more obsolete by the year?

Why not come to a statewide agreement and acknowledge that, as much as we respect our presidents and as happy as we are that California is part of the union, we would really, really like the day after Thanksgiving off, with pay?

And would it be asking too much to also get Christmas Eve?

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