No matter what the stores call their sales, the federal holiday today — the reason there is no mail delivery — is Washington’s Birthday. There is no such federal holiday as Presidents’ Day.
If there had been a calendar on the wall the day George Washington was born, it would have read February 11, 1731. In 1752 however, Britain and her colonies converted from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today. The change added 11 days and designated January rather than March as the beginning of the year. Accordingly, Washington’s birthday became February 22, 1732.
A federal holiday was celebrated on February 22 from its approval in 18791 until legislation in 1968 designated the third Monday of February the official day to celebrate Washington’s birthday.
The states are not obliged to adopt federal holidays, which only affect federal offices and agencies. While most states have adopted Washington’s Birthday, a dozen of them officially celebrate Presidents’ Day. A number of the states that celebrate Washington’s Birthday also recognize Lincoln’s Birthday as a separate legal holiday.2
14 weeks until the next holiday.
1 Washington’s Birthday was the fifth federal legal holiday. Only New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day preceded it. There are 10 now, but Labor Day will be eliminated soon.
2 There is no state holiday today in New Mexico. The state chooses to celebrate Presidents’ Day the day after Thanksgiving.
I am well aware of the feelings among many American Indians about Columbus Day. One Lakota woman who worked for me used to ask if she could come in and work on Columbus Day, a federal holiday.
My feeling though is that we can’t have enough holidays and so I choose to think of Columbus Day as the Italian-American holiday. Nothing wrong with that. We have an African-American holiday on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. We have the Irish-American celebration that is St. Patrick’s Day. And Cinco de Mayo is surely the Mexican-American holiday, a much larger celebration here than in most of Mexico.
So, instead of protesting Columbus Day, perhaps American Indians should organize and bring about a holiday of their very own. Given the great diversity among Indian nations (and, lets face it, a proclivity for endless debate), the tribes might never reach agreement, though, so I will suggest a date.
The day before Columbus Day.
This is a Christmas season tradition here at NewMexiKen. Go ahead, read it again. It makes everything about the season seem simpler yet more precious.
The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), 1906.
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And
sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two
at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and
the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent
imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied.
Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven
cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
. . . the Grinch was too softhearted.
On iTunes I have 469 tracks identified as Christmas music. I’ve created a playlist with them that automatically drops a track off after it’s been played. At this writing I have 369 left to hear this year. 🎅
The types of music vary widely from Classical to Country, Jazz and New Age, but include of course the usual standards of which I suppose Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the archetype. (Of the 469 tracks, 12 are in fact versions of “White Christmas” including two copies of Bing.)
I have a lot of favorites. I grew up in Catholic schools, so am nostalgic when I hear the carols, and have several albums of guitar versions by artists like John Fahey and Eric Williams. I particularly like Christmas in Santa Fe by Ruben Romero & Robert Notkoff, Winter Dreams by R. Carlos Nakai & William Eaton and Navidad Cubana by Cuba L.A. — it gets you dancing around the old árbol de Navidad.
And no collection is complete without Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.
But when it comes down to it, this may be my favorite. It’s an OK video but the point is to enjoy Clyde McPhatter and Bill Pinkney’s bass.
Those bags with sand and candles that are a New Mexico Christmas Eve tradition; the correct name for them is farolitos.
Often farolitos are called luminarias. Lumanarias traditionally were actually small bonfires.
Farolitos (literally “little lanterns”) replaced lumanarias (“altar lamps”) as towns became more densely populated. The purpose of both was to light the path to midnight mass.
Farolitos are the coolest Christmas decoration ever, especially when whole neighborhoods line their sidewalks, driveways and even roof-lines with them. (Electric versions are common and can be found throughout the season. The real deal are candles and displayed only on Christmas Eve.)
Buy some sand (for ballast), some votive candles and some lunch bags and bring a beautiful New Mexico Christmas Eve tradition to your neighborhood this year. Get your neighbors to join you. You could become famous if it’s never been done in your area. And the kids love it.