For many years, America celebrated the birth of its first president and the leader of the nation's founders on his birthday.
George Washington was born on Feb. 22, 1732. His birthday memorializes the patriot without whom there never would have been a United States of America.
The general, who led unprofessional colonial troops to victory over the strongest army in the world, who worked to mold the direction of a new nation, who inspired his countrymen to make freedom the first and strongest pillar of the new government, then served for eight years as the new nation's president, deserves a holiday in his name alone. And for a long time, he had one, until those whom the people send to Washington to govern them decided to combine the day of observance with that of another of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, who also used to have a holiday in his honor.
So now we have Presidents Day to honor both Washington and Lincoln, and in many places, all our presidents -- good, bad or mediocre. It is celebrated on the third Monday of February, regardless of the birth dates of those being honored.
This is convenient and provides a three-day weekend for the working public. In fact, it was a move to provide such a weekend for enjoyment by the public that the holiday was scheduled for the third Monday.
Patriotic holidays are not what they used to be. Washington's Birthday, as Presidents Day, is known largely for its automobile sales. It is the day when auto buffs go to sales rooms and kick tires and ooh and aah at the new models and sometimes actually buy cars.
The excitement, the exhilaration, the joy and triumph at being free, at having thrown off the yoke of oppression, and the role the celebrated leaders played in it all that once were the essence of our holidays are gone today. We enjoy our holidays with scarcely a thought about their true meaning.
Freedom has lost its allure. It is taken for granted, accepted as a natural condition, given little attention or recognition beyond the often windy speeches by politicians seeking votes. It is not something we appear to cherish, as the early patriots did when, in their exuberance, according to legend, they rang the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia so hard, they cracked it.
That bell with the crack still is on display as a symbol of our love of our freedom.
This passivity, this apathy, is the most dangerous quality in the land. For liberty can be lost easily and quickly and almost unnoticed, as millions the world over have discovered. Yet in all the debating and squabbling, by which our politicians decide how much more the government will give the people, freedom is given little mention, except as a weak afterthought.
So it is appropriate that the nation sets aside a few days each year to remind itself of the freedom it enjoys and the struggles it has made to win it and preserve it and protect it. It is right and in the interest of us all that we call to mind the great figures in our history who fought for our freedom and set up the government that provides us with the power to elect those who will govern us.
No one holds a place of honor on the scroll of our liberty as high as that of Washington. He is the one giant among the several geniuses who gave us our government and the Constitution that saves us from servitude.
And what Washington created, Abraham Lincoln preserved, as he led the country through its most terrible war. He, too, is remembered today as one of our greatest national leaders, considered by many as equal or superior to Washington.
He, too, stands on a pedestal that sets him above his fellow countrymen. And other presidents, all our presidents, are honored today, and they earned our recognition for, great or weak in their leadership, they served as best they could and continued the enduring maintenance of our freedom.
Today the nation honors its presidents for the service they gave, and thanks them for their sacrifice and their dedication to the nation that George Washington was so powerful in creating.
Let us think of them for a bit as we hustle about our busy activities; let us remember what they did and what they gave to us, and let us thank them for the freedom we continue to enjoy.
Bob Reed, 93, is a former editor of the editorial page of The Sun. His email address is Bgreedy1@aol.com.