Fun February Festivals

February brings several national events and holidays that are traditionally celebrated in America.  Not only is the Super Bowl usually played on the first Sunday in February, but additionally there are three holidays that are dedicated to the Presidents of the United States.

Super Bowl Sunday

The annual championship of the National Football League is held on either the last Sunday in January, or alternatively the first Sunday in February.  Although not a bank holiday per se, this is a day when families get together to watch not only the game itself but the advertisements that interrupt it, even if they are not fans of the sport.  It is said that Americans watching this televised event consume about 1.25 billion chicken wings, and roughly 28,000,000 pounds of crisps (what Americans call ‘potato chips,).  This year’s Super Bowl game between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers was viewed by a record 111.9 million people, the third largest viewership in the history of the game.  The highlight of this event for many is the half-time show, with 115.5 million people tuning in this year to see the stars Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars perform.

Another fun Super Bowl tradition involves indulging in infamously epic and over-the-top food. Past trends including turducken (a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey–yes you read that correctly!), and the current fad seems to be edible football stadiums (check out those green guacamole fields!).

And if American football isn’t your thing, there’s always the Puppy Bowl, an annual television program aired on the U.S. channel Animal Planet. Puppy Bowl features (what else?) puppies (all from shelters and up for adoption), frolicking with tiny toy footballs on a miniature American football field, with the show providing referees, commentary and instant replay shots.

Washington’s Birthday

Observed on the Monday closest to the 22nd February

A federal holiday honouring George Washington, and indeed all American Presidents, was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879 and expanded to include all federal offices in 1885. As this was the first federal observance of an American president, the holiday was celebrated on the birthday of the first American President.  While George Washington was officially born on 11 February 1731, at that time countries such as the British Empire, and its North American possessions utilised the Julian calendar.  However, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, those born prior to that time, including Washington, typically had their birthdays recognized as what they would have been under the new system.  Thus, the date for the observance of Washington’s birth shifted to February 22, 1732 ‘New Style’.  This day continued to be celebrated as a Federal holiday until 1 January 1971, when the observation was shifted to the third Monday in February, and renamed President’s Day. There are, however, a few states in the union that still observe Washington’s Birthday, such as California, Illinois, Iowa Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia.

In addition to this holiday, Washington is remembered through the Washington Monument in Washington DC, and his likeness along with that of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson is chiseled into the side of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.  His face is also engraved onto the one dollar bill and the American quarter coin.

In terms of Washington-related books in our collection, we recommend 1776: American and Britain at War by David McCullough. 1776 is an engaging and gripping account of the Revolutionary War, focusing not just on Washington as a general and his military strategies, but on other famous figures such as John Adams and King George III .

Lincoln’s Birthday

Observed on the Monday closest to 12 February

Lincoln’s Birthday, a legal public holiday that was enacted to commemorate the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln, is celebrated in conjunction with his birth on the 12th of February 1809.  Although not a federal holiday, certain states of the union (including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and New York) observe this celebration.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and in many polls is regarded as one of the most important of Presidents.  Lincoln became famous as Commander in Chief for leading the country through the Civil War, and he is known also for the role that he played in abolishing slavery in the United States.  In addition to this holiday, Abraham Lincoln is commemorated by the Lincoln Memorial which stands in Washington DC.  Additionally, his likeness along with those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt can be seen at Mount Rushmore.  His face is also emblazoned on the five dollar bill and the American cent coin (the ‘penny’).

An excellent book in our collection about Lincoln’s presidency (focusing specifically on his relationship with his cabinet members) is the highly acclaimed Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham LincolnWritten by Pulitzer-prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this book also served as the basis for Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film adaptation, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in an Oscar-winning role.

President’s Day

Observed on the Third Monday in February

On January 1, 1971, a federal holiday honouring all American presidents was shifted from the date of Washington’s birthday to the third Monday in February.  This holiday, referred to as President’s Day, is considered a bank holiday by twenty states in the union including Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming, and is often celebrated in lieu of or in addition to the births of Washington and Lincoln.

Famous Folk Legends about American Presidents

George Washington

It is said that when George Washington was a young lad of six, he took a hatchet given to him by his father as a gift and chopped down the family’s prize cherry tree.  When his father noticed this, he became very angry and approached the boy, asking if he knew who had done such a terrible thing, to which young George replied, ‘Father I cannot tell a lie, I did cut it with my axe.’  The story goes that the father rejoiced at the honesty of his son, proclaiming that this quality was worth more than a thousand trees.  This tale is told as an indication strong moral character of the man who would become the first American President.

Abraham Lincoln

There are two stories commonly told about this American president that may account for his first being given the nickname ‘Honest Abe’.  First, when Abraham Lincoln was a child, he borrowed a book, and due to the rain seeping into the chinking of the log cabin in which he lived, it became water logged and was ruined.  The story goes that the boy worked for three days foddering corn to earn enough money to pay for the cost of the book.  Another myth about Lincoln’s honesty occurs when he was a young man and shopkeeper.  It is said that a customer who bought some goods from his store was inadvertently short changed, and upon discovering this, the young man closed up and walked several miles to make restitution for his mistake.

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Filed under American Culture, American History

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