A Presidential Celebration
February 18, 2014

Yesterday was Presidents’ Day here in the United States. ¬†Over the years, this holiday has been a proud day for patriots, a great excuse for a mid-winter party, and a teachable moment for new immigrants.

President's Day Card

A Victorian-era Presidents' Day card. Image via the New York Public Library.

We’ve been officially celebrating Presidents’ Day since an act of congress in 1879 designated George Washington’s birthday a Federal holiday, but celebrations long pre-date that. In 1863, the New York Times reported that “thousands availed themselves of the granted cessation from work to indulge…in a jolly good sleigh-ride. The schools were given a holiday, and the merry youngsters improved the opportunity to fight mimic battles with snow-white balls, to slide down well trodden hills, and to march in uniform step with those of larger growth…”

Presidents’ Day has also been used as a “teachable moment” for new immigrants for many years. At the Educational Alliance, a social service agency still thriving today, young Jewish immigrants were introduced to the holiday right here on the Lower East Side, beginning in 1889. In 1901, the Times reported that the Alliance’s celebration included a “large crowd of children, many of whom were spending their first Washington’s birthday in this country…” There were “patriotic songs and recitations” and “a little boy who had been in the country only two months gave a recitation to the memory of Washington in almost faultless English.”

Educational Alliance

Jewish immigrant children waving flags and repeating oath of allegiance at the Educational Alliance c.1906. Image via Library of Congress.

These days, Presidents’ Day is more closely associated with sales and three-day weekends than anything else. But before you assume that the holiday’s heyday has come and gone, consider this: in 2007, the Presidents Day Society was founded by costumed interpreters who portray “the men who have led our nation from its inception to modern times.” Their goal is to one day include every President who has governed the United States, but one question remains…who will represent Richard Nixon?

Presidents Day Society

Members of the Presidents Day Society Gather for Breakfast. Image via http://brandonmutari.com/

— Posted by Kira Garcia