Comments & Curiosities: Calendars and some confusion

Monday is Presidents' Day. But you already knew that.

Tell me something, though, just between us. What does Presidents' Day mean to you? Go ahead. Anyone? No?

The reason all you can hear is crickets when I ask that question is that the only thing Presidents' Day means to you, and me, and everyone else, is a three-day weekend, which is a good thing, and mattress sales, which are not as good.

But being a lifelong student of the odd, here is the real meaning of Presidents' Day to me: It just might be the most confusing holiday of all, with the possible exception of Founders' Day, which no living human being understands.

When I was a young-type person, Lincoln's birthday was Feb. 12 and Washington's birthday was Feb. 22. For reasons I didn't understand then and barely understand now, schools were closed on Washington's birthday (boo-yah!), but not on Lincoln's (just boo.) Apparently, saving the country and giving your life in the process is not enough to have your birthday be a national holiday.

But today, as everyone knows, Presidents' Day is a combined celebration of the birthdays of George Washington, President 1.0, and Abraham Lincoln, the tall man with the sad face. The problem is, everyone is wrong. I don't know if there is a Confucius Day in China, but I think we should rename the third Monday in February in this country Confusion Day.

In 1968, Congress made the third Monday in February a national holiday celebrating Washington's birthday, period. Just Washington, no Lincoln. Sorry, Abe. To make things confusing right from the start, that law didn't take effect until 1971.

In the years that followed, a number of states and cities passed resolutions declaring the day "Presidents' Day," to celebrate the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln. That made sense since the third Monday in February always falls between Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, which is pretty close to the birthdays of both presidents. Pretty close, yes, but no cigar.

Yes, Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, but Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1732, not Feb. 22. The problem is differences between the Julian calendar, which people used in the way back times, and the Gregorian calendar, which is what we have been using since 1752, which transposed the old Feb. 11 to the new Feb. 22.

Not that you're dying to know this, but the Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. and the Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, which is weird I think. Who made up that rule? Why would you go to a Roman emperor and a pope for your calendars?

I would think you'd be better off looking for the smartest astronomer or scholar you could find and saying, "Dude, we need something to keep track of days and months, there are too many things in the sky for us to figure out, you do it."

That would make more sense, no?

Given all that, I still say we need to rename the third Monday in February National Confusion Day, unless you're looking for a mattress. Regardless, I wanted to find something positive and meaningful that you could do for Presidents' Day weekend.

Here's what I found. Every year in the U.S. Senate, within a few days of Presidents' Day, a gaggle of senators takes the floor and reads George Washington's farewell address. If you're looking for something to do that is really boring and works better than Ambien, I think that is perfect.

But I found something on a website called that is way better — an edible log cabin made out of pretzels. You need two sheets of construction paper, one green and one brown, and a bag of long, straight pretzels. You use the green construction paper as a base, which looks like grass, sort of, then build a square box out of the pretzels with the ends overlapping like Lincoln logs, which is of course the Presidents' Day hook: a log cabin, Abe Lincoln, homework by candlelight, writing with charcoal, etc. Then you fold the brown construction paper in half and plop it on top like a pitched roof.

The whole deal should take all of about five minutes, after which you say something significant about Washington and Lincoln, then let the kids smash the log cabin to pieces like Godzilla with bad gas. All in all, it's the perfect Presidents' Day celebration. Don't thank me, it's my job.

Four score and seven years ago, people were totally confused about which president was born when, but today, they still are. It's what makes this country great. Have the best Presidents' Day ever. Just because it's confusing doesn't mean you can't have fun. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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