With Presidents’ Day approaching, this year falling on Monday, February 18, many Americans may not think of it as a day to honor, other than spending time with family, but with imagination there are many great ways to turn the next federal holiday into a memorable event.
Whether you use it as an opportunity to pass on some American history to your grandkids, decide to take a trip to get to know more about the background of the land our Presidents helped form, or mark it by serving a special dinner, Presidents’ Day can be a way of shaking off the winter gloom for a day and having some fun.
Presidents’ Day, held each year on the third Monday of February, comes straight after Martin Luther King Jr Day in January, is officially known as Washington’s Birthday as it was originally celebrated on the anniversary of George Washington’s birth, on February 22. The day was first made a holiday in the District of Columbia in 1880 and then made a federal holiday in 1885.
The day commemorates past presidents of the United States, including George Washington, the USA’s first president, who famously led the army to victory over the British before he became president, served two terms as president from 1789 to 1797, and is often seen as ‘the Father of the United States.’
Some states use the day to pay particular attention to the work of Abraham Lincoln as his birthday was also in mid-February. Lincoln served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865, and is renowned for leading the nation through the Civil War, preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, and strengthening the federal government and economy.
This year, find a new way to observe Presidents’ Day, perhaps offer some of your time to others to mark the day or maybe even start a new family tradition to cheer up the mid-winter season.
Contribute to your community
Often towns hold community events on Presidents’ Day to bring local people together, and event organizers are always happy to recruit volunteers to help at stalls or run a certain attraction. Look out for events near you, or if there isn’t one, think about whether you could set something up for your local community to mark the day.
Although many schools are closed on the actual day for their mid-winter recess, schools often organize lessons and events for their students in the weeks or days leading up to Presidents’ Day with a focus on the presidents of the United States and in particular, George Washington. If you have an interest in history, why not get in touch with your local school and see if you can offer your time and knowledge to speak with students about the history of the American presidents. Teachers will no doubt welcome your input into the classroom, giving the students a new perspective on history.
Make it special for the grandchildren
Every day brings a learning opportunity when you’ve got children in your life, and with many schools on their mid-winter recess, chances are you will be with your grandchildren on Presidents’ Day this year. Why not make the day a really special occasion for the kids, whilst teaching them lots of fun facts without them even realizing, by throwing a Presidents Party?
Depending on the age of the children you could suggest everyone dresses up as a different president, and learns three things about their character to share with the party. You could come up with games related to the history of the presidents (put the list of presidents in the correct order, president related scavenger hunt etc) or think of craft activities that might keep them occupied like collage the Stars and Stripes or model a miniature Mount Rushmore from modelling clay.
If the children are school age you can ask them for what they have learned about the presidents – kids love to share their knowledge! Maybe you could even challenge them to a fun quiz to see who knows the most.
Take a Trip
The United States has a wealth of historic buildings and monuments dedicated to past presidents. Too often we don’t even notice the monuments on our own doorstep. This Presidents’ Day holiday could be the perfect chance to become a tourist in your own town. Visit the Capitol building closest to you and view special monuments that you might usually walk past. Find out about their history and you may be surprised to discover that you are living close to locations of national historical importance.
If you have more time on your hands, you could even take a road trip further afield to a state you’ve never visited, taking in National Parks or cities. Washington DC is the obvious destination, as the capital city, namesake of the very first president and the location of the White House, with so many historical attractions to visit. But don’t be limited. A visit to Mount Rushmore would be equally appropriate, or indeed any of the National Parks around the country.
Make a presidents themed feast
If you would rather spend the day in the comfort of your home, you can still mark the holiday in style by cooking a feast fit for a president. By choosing foods that were favored by particular presidents you can add a fun twist to a Presidents’ Day meal. George Washington was famed for his love of fish, of which his wife Martha said he was ‘excessively fond’. Martha’s own favorites were desserts including spice cakes, macaroons and fruit pies.
Less is known about Lincoln’s tastes, but to honor him it might be appropriate to choose a Kentucky-frontier menu with cornbread and venison or a basic bacon and eggs dinner, to call to mind his childhood living a simple life in a log cabin. Alternatively you could make Lincoln’s favorite childhood gingerbread men to play homage to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates during which Lincoln recounted the story of giving up his favorite treats to a boy who was poorer than he was.