Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

December 24, 2010

I wish everyone a

Merry Christmas

Felix Natividad

Joyeux Noel

Froliche Weinachten

Buon Natale

Happy Hanukkah (retroactively).

Quality Kwanzaa

Splendid Solstice

Pleasant Pancha Ganapati

Beautiful Bodhi Day (belatedly)

Excellent Eid (very, very belatedly)

Fabulous Festivus

Happy New Year

or, if you’re not covered by any of the above, Season’s Greetings

or a Bah! Humbug! if you reject any expression of good will because it is politically or doctrinally incorrect.

Washington’s Birthday

February 22, 2010

Today is the former holiday once known as Washington’s Birthday.  We Americans stopped taking note of it long before it was combined with Lincoln’s Birthday into the meaningless President’s Day.

When I was a boy, Abraham Lincoln was a living figure to me, but not George Washington.  Life in small-town Williamsport, Md., in the 1940s, even though we had radios and automobiles, was close enough to Lincoln’s that I could identify with him; today my life back then is almost as distant as Lincoln’s to the Twitter and Facebook generation.  I could identify with Lincoln’s warm humanity, but not Washington’s distant coldness.  Washington seemed more like an English country gentleman somehow transplanted to Virginia and enrolled in the American cause.

It wasn’t until late in life that I came to appreciate Washington’s true greatness.  I owe this mainly to two books, Founding Father: George Washington by Richard Brookhiser, and His Excellency, George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis.

Washington was not cold and emotionless.  He was man of haughty pride, fiery temper and strong passions, held in check by iron will and self-discipline.  He was a capable general and a capable President, but his true greatness lay in his character.  He staked everything, including his life, on the Revolutionary cause.  He held the Continental Army together in the darkest days of the Revolutionary War, including the winter at Valley Forge when the army lacked shelter, decent shoes, warm clothing and decent food.  In spite of all his frustrations with a sometimes incompetent and corrupt Congress, he never challenged civilian authority.

His greatest moment came at the end of the Revolutionary War, when the victorious former colonies seemed ready to disintegrate into chaos.  He could have made himself dictator, as so many other revolutionary leaders in the same situation have done, but he chose to return to Mount Vernon.  As President, he led a nation that was much more divided than it is now. He held it together by means of his prestige which he maintained through strict impartiality.

Washington was not a perfect person.  He was a slaveowner.  But he, along with Abraham Lincoln, are among the few people in American history of whom the more I learn about them, the more I respect them.  I become extremely irritated at TV advertisements for President’s Day sales, in which Washington and Lincoln are made figures of ridicule.  It is not so much that I object to joking about great individuals as that the cartoonish jokes are all there is.

Many of our patriotic holidays have lost their meaning.  On the Fourth of July, few people think of the meaning of the Declaration of Independence.  On Thanksgiving Day, many give thanks, but few think of the Mayflower Compact.  About the only meaningful patriotic holidays we have left are Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in which school children and others do think about the meaning of Dr. King’s life, and Memorial Day, when we do pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the nation’s wars. That’s a reason for celebrating these two holidays all the more.