It's a Holiday, by George!

Although a few states officially celebrate Presidents Day, believe it or not, there is no such federal holiday, despite retailers grabbing and running with the idea. There is, however, a federal Washington the Warriorholiday (with several states joining in, too) designated to honor George Washington's birth. This year, Washington’s Birthday will be observed on February 18, as it regularly falls on the third Monday of February. Strangely, the day chosen by act of congress to celebrate George’s birthday never falls on the day he was actually born. This is made even stranger by the fact that they had two chances for it to happen. When Washington was born in 1732, America was under the rule of Britain, which was still using the Julian calendar. At the time of his birth, Washington was born on February 11. Later, after the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Britain, and thus, in the American colonies, Washington’s birth date was changed to February 22, in order to sync the eleven-day change in calendars. Today, Washington’s Birthday is officially celebrated on any one of seven days from one year to the next. The range of dates is February 15-21, which means it misses both old and new dates established for Washington’s birth. It’s no wonder congress can’t agree on complex budgets, when they can’t even figure out the calendar that we all use equally! So, why does Washington deserve his own day, when other U.S. presidents haven’t received the same honor? Washington was both a successful army general who led the colonies to You Are Thereindependence, and was the first president to serve under the U.S. Constitution. He came first and despite being succeeded in the presidency by many brilliant minds (and a few not-so-brilliant ones), his accomplishments hold up to the test of time. How high, in fact, does Washington rate? Among U.S. presidents, three names regularly appear at the top in polls of academics when ranking the greatest to have served in that office: Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whereas “Honest Abe” has been a frequent movie subject over the decades (the latest film, Lincoln, will be released on DVD February 26), and FDR has received notable treatments on both big screen and small (including Hyde Park on Hudson, which is currently at The Fleur), “The Father of Our Country” has never received a major silver screen biopic during the sound era. You’d think that with Washington’s lasting acclaim, he would have inspired myriad moviemakers to have made several epic depictions of his life, but that hasn’t been the case. Aside from a pair of now seldom-seen mid-eighties miniseries starring Barry Bostwick (perhaps better known for playing Brad “Dammit Janet” Majors in The Rocky Horror Picture Show), there hasn’t even been much narrative treatment of the first president on television, either.  Fortunately, several TV documentaries and docudramas devoted to Washington’s legacy have been Valley Forgeproduced. As we are fast approaching Washington’s Birthday, it may be a good time to pop a disc into your DVD player and celebrate “The Sage of Mount Vernon.” The following titles, which are in the DVD collection of the Des Moines Public Library, provide quite a hodgepodge of Washington lore: You Are There: The American Revolution and George Washington – Walter Cronkite, later the longtime CBS Evening News anchor who was considered the most trusted man in America, earlier hosted You Are There, a 30-minute CBS docudrama series that ran from 1953 to 1957. This disc contains two Washington-centered episodes from 1955:  Washington's Farewell to His Officers (December 4, 1783) and Washington Crosses the Delaware (December 25, 1776). This time capsule may tell you as much about the constraints of early TV production as it does about those two historic events, but that also doubles your chances of enjoying it on some level. Washington the Warrior – Produced by the History Channel and narrated by Stacy Keach, this program concentrates on Washington’s early military career, his retirement, and then his eventual return to duty during the American Revolution. Strangely, this was filmed in Lithuania! George Washington – Former Disney animator Richard Rich (The Fox and the Hound) made this 30-minute entry in the Animated Hero Classics series. OK, this isn’t actually a documentary or docudrama, but it may provide children with a good introduction to Washington, the general. George Washington: Founding Father – One-time TV series star Monte Markham co-produced, co-directed and narrated this relatively brief, straight-up documentary overview of Washington’s life for the Arts & Entertainment Network. Valley Forge – A pivotal moment in the American Revolution is highlighted in this episode of the History Channel’s Save Our History series. After several decisive defeats, General Washington withdraws his troops to Valley Forge, where he manages to turn his ragtag rebels into a cohesive fighting force.  A mix of historical reenactments and interviews with academic experts help explain this critical period in the War of Independence.
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