Presidents Day is observed in our country as a national holiday on the third Monday of February, but it hasn’t always been that way.
It was 1968 when Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.”
Prior to that, George Washington’s birthday was always observed Feb. 22, recognizing the date of his birth as Feb. 22, 1732. I have read accounts that declare this practice began as early as 1790, not quite a year into Washington’s first term as president.
As the 100th anniversary of his birth drew near, a committee chaired by Henry Clay of the Senate and Philemon Thomas of the House recommended that Congress adjourn on that day out of respect for Washington’s memory and in commemoration of his birthday.
Thirty years later, a memorial from the mayor and citizens of Philadelphia suggested the House and Senate meet in joint session to commemorate Washington’s birthday by reading aloud his Farewell Address. The annual reading of this document continues to be a tradition in the Senate to this day.
George Washington never lived in the White House in the city that bears his name. John Adams, the second president, and his family were the first occupants of the mansion. In Washington’s day, the capital was located in Philadelphia and other cities.
Regardless of where he lived, Washington always dominated a room. Standing about 6 feet, 2 inches, he typically stood well above most people of that day, yet he was a quiet man. He seldom spoke and when he did, his speeches were usually short. In fact, Washington holds the record for the shortest inaugural speech ever given — 133 words, taking less than two minutes to deliver.
Perhaps he was acquainted with James’ advice in the first chapter of his epistle: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV).
As we observe Presidents Day, let’s take some time to meditate on the idea of speaking less and listening more.
— The Rev. Ron McClung, a former pastor of Owosso Wesleyan Church, now living in Indianapolis, Indiana, currently serves as associate general secretary for the denomination.