Raising Patriotic Children
Presidents’ Day: Celebrate Our Greatest with the Kids
It shouldn’t be a day for just any old president
-Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston
Presidents’ Day began as a celebration of the birthday of George Washington, who, according to the calendar that has been used since at least the mid-18th Century, was born February 22. At the beginning of the 19th Century, it had become a big-deal, national holiday celebrated with speeches and festive dinners, usually given by prominent people, in honor of the “Father of Our Country.”
Then, along came Abraham Lincoln whose birthday was February 12. The first official observance of his birthday occurred in 1866, the year after his assassination. Lincoln’s birthday, unlike Washington’s, wasn’t a federal holiday and was never celebrated in the states that had been part of the Confederacy. For more than 100 years, however, both holidays were celebrated in many states as schools, banks and most government offices closed in honor of our two greatest presidents.
Then, in 1968, Congress designated the third Monday in February as a day to honor all presidents of our nation, the great and the not-so-hot alike. This, in our humble opinion, wasn’t the best idea ever concocted in those hallowed halls. Given their extraordinary lives and their unmatched service to this country, we believe, Washington and Lincoln ought to have their own celebrations as they once did. If for no other reason than that our children need heroes, Congress ought to reconsider Presidents’ Day and give our two greatest presidents their due.
“I Didn’t Know That”
Some Facts about the “Father of Our Country”:
- Washington left school at 15 to become a surveyor. His mother couldn’t afford to send him to college.
- At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he was one of our tallest presidents and considered unusually tall for a man in his time.
- He survived small pox; and, yes, he suffered with tooth aches for years. He had all his teeth pulled when he was 57 and wore false teeth made of ivory.
- Maybe that’s why the six white horses in his stables had their teeth brushed every morning on his orders.
- He also bred hound dogs that he treated like members of the family. He gave some of them unusual names such as True Love and Sweet Lips.
- He had two ice cream freezers installed at Mount Vernon.
- New research has found that his wife and our first First Lady, Martha Washington, when she was young, was really a dish. She was also very, very rich.
Some Facts about “Honest Abe”:
- Before becoming a lawyer and a politician, he worked as a rail splitter, store clerk, surveyor, postmaster and, briefly, as a soldier.
- At 6 feet 4 inches’,” he was the tallest president in U.S. history, and his favorite sport was wrestling.
- He was the only president to receive a patent, for lifting boats over shoals.
- He grew a beard at the suggestion of an 11-year-old girl who thought it would improve his looks.
- He was not the featured speaker at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg. The featured speaker spoke for two hours. Lincoln spoke for two minutes and thought his speech was a failure. So did the New York Times in its review.
- He is the president most frequently portrayed in movies and written about by historians.
- A week before he was assassinated, he dreamt that he would die.
Here are some ways to emphasize the achievements of these two great past leaders who contributed so much to our and their heritage over Presidents’ Day Weekend with your family:
Read a book about Washington. Some good choices are:
- “A Picture Book of George Washington” by David Adler (Holiday House), ages 4-8.
- “George Washington and the General’s Dog” by Frank Murphy, (Random House Books for Young Readers), ages 4-8.
- “When Washington Crossed the Delaware” by Lynne Cheney, (Simon and Schuster), ages 6-10.
- “His Excellency George Washington” by Joseph Ellis (Knopf) or “1776″ by David McCullough (Simon and Schuster), for older readers or for the whole family to listen to on audio books.
- DVDs or videos to watch: “The Crossing,” A&E Home Video; “George Washington, Founding Father, “A&E Biography; “George Washington: The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King,” WGBH Boston; “Founding Brothers” and “Founding Fathers,” History Channel.
- Take a virtual tour of Mount Vernon, the home Washington loved, preserved as it was in Washington’s day at mountvernon.org. It’s a wonderful site to learn how people lived in Colonial America with photos and information about everything from how Washington’s food was cooked to how his garden grew. Kids can even send an online “postcard” of George Washington to a buddy or grandma and grandpa.
- And, sure it is corny, but who would refuse some cherry pie for dessert in honor of our first president.
Good books about Lincoln include:
- “Meet Abraham Lincoln” by Barbara Cary (Random House), ages 4-8.
- “Abraham Lincoln’s Hat” by Martha Brenner (Random House), ages 4-8.
- “Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator” by Augusta Stevenson (Aladdin), ages 9-12.
- “Abraham Lincoln Grows Up” by Carl Sandburg (Voyager Books), young adults
- “Commander in Chief: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War” by Albert Marrin (Dutton Young Adult).
- “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln (Houghton Mifflin), older teens, but can be read and looked at by kids of all ages because of its powerful illustrations.
- DVDs and Videos to watch: “Biography: Abraham Lincoln,” A &E; “American Experience: Abraham and Mary Lincoln–A House Divided” WGBH, Boston; “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” starring Henry Fonda, 20th Century Fox; “Young Abe Lincoln” starring Raymond Massey, Turner Home Entertainment.
- We love the Lincoln rap on childfun.com that includes this verse: “Abraham Lincoln, I’ve been thinking/ How you bravely led the land. Once divided, now united/You made sure our house would stand.”
Could your kids or their friends come up with their own rap for George or Abe? Or, even better, try one for Barack?
Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston are the authors of “How to Raise an American” (Crown Forum.)