I love The Big Bang Theory. I didn’t expect to. In fact, when I read about the show before it first aired, I was convinced that not only would it be horrible, but that it would obviously be a collection of low-brow humor built around making fun of nerds.
And since I’m a nerd, freak, and a geek from way back, I just didn’t see the point.
Then a pair of friends—both nerds—told me how funny it was. As one said, “Yes, the humor is at the expense of the nerds, but it’s things that are true about nerds. Not only do I know people exactly like them, many times I’ve been the people just like them.”
As I watched it, I’ve had one realization over and over. Every time I start thinking that while I am nerdy, of the four central characters, I’m more like Leonard (the least socially awkward one), Sheldon (the über-est nerd) will do something that is exactly like me. Or I will say something that I realize would be totally in character for Sheldon to say.
For instance, today a friend made a comment on Twitter about President’s Day, and before I knew what I was doing, I had replied to point out that the official Federal holiday is called “Washington’s Birthday Observance.” President’s Day is a completely unofficial name adopted mostly by advertising people. Explaining that to someone is something I could easily see Sheldon doing on the show. Having dipped my toes into Sheldon-land, I might as well leap on in.
I’m old enough that I remember when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed by Congress (it was signed into law during the summer of 1968—between my first and second grades—though it didn’t go into effect until January of ’71). I have quite distinct memories of teachers explaining, after the law was passed, how Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday would no longer be observed as separate holidays, but that a Monday between them would be the new holiday.
Except not one fact in that sentence was true.
Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, has never been observed as a Federal holiday. Some states at various times have observed it, but as far as I have been able to tell, none of the states I lived in as a child was one of them. I could digress for a bit about how there are no national holidays, and why states are free to ignore federal holidays, and why a Lincoln’s birthday is controversial in some states, but let’s leave that for another day.
Washington’s Birthday, February 22, was observed as a holiday only in the District of Columbia beginning in 1879. It wasn’t until 1885 that an act of Congress declared it a holiday to be observed at all federal agencies and offices throughout the states and territories.
In the 1950s some citizens started lobbying to have March 4, the original Inauguration Day, declared a federal Presidents’ Day holiday to honor the office of the presidency. A bill to name both Lincoln’s Birthday and this March 4 Presidents’ Day as federal holidays in addition to the existing Washington’s Birthday got stalled in Congress in part because some felt that three federal holidays in such close proximity was too much.
By the time the Uniform Monday Holiday bill was introduced, the first draft did specify that the third Monday in February would be observed as Washington and Lincoln Day, but that draft never got out of committee. The bill that was actually passed named the third Monday in February Washington’s Birthday Observance. Lincoln’s Birthday wasn’t included or mentioned.
A couple of states do officially observe a Presidents’ Day, but neither does so in February. Massachusetts recognizes May 29 (John F. Kennedy’s birthday) as Presidents’ Day in honor of the four men from Massachusetts who have served as president thus far: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and JFK. New Mexico observes a Presidents’ Day to honor all who have served as President, but the holiday is designated as the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Most of the rest of the states recognize the third Monday in February as Washington’s Birthday. In Virginia the official name is George Washington Day. In Alabama, the official name is Washington and Jefferson Day, in honor of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In Arkansas the official name is George Washington and Daisy Gatson Bates Day, to honor both Washington and Daisy Bates, a civil rights activist.
Currently, only three states officially recognize Lincoln’s Birthday as a holiday: Illinois, Connecticut, and Missouri. All three observe it on the 12th, no matter what day of the week that date falls on.
So the next time someone calls it Presidents’ Day, you’re prepared to set them straight.
Because neither Sheldon nor I can be everywhere.
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