Preside... I Mean Washington's Birthday

February 24th, 2012

This past week Americans observed Presidents’ Day. Many public schools and government offices were closed on Monday. Appliance stores around the country had Presidents’ Day sales that they advertised with commercials featuring “Hail to the Chief” and actors dressed up as George Washington and Honest Abe.

There’s one problem with Presidents’ Day: It isn’t actually Presidents’ Day. Most of our calendars refer to the third Monday in February as Presidents’ Day, and many Americans assume that the day honors both George Washington (whose birthday is February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (whose birthday is February 12), as well as all the other Presidents of the United States. But, according to the laws that govern federal holidays, Monday was all about George Washington, and not at all about Abraham Lincoln or any other president.

The holiday was first established in 1880 and celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday. (Kind of. When the British Empire adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, Washington’s birthday moved from February 11 to February 22.) When the Uniform Monday Holiday Act became effective in 1971, it assigned the holiday to the third Monday of February, placing it between Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays. But a proposal to change the name to Presidents’ Day never passed.

Scriptural Misnomers

Holidays don’t often masquerade as something they’re not, but people do it all the time. In Acts 8, a man named Simon (often called Simon the Magician) was doing tricks and convincing the people that he was great and worthy of honor. When he learned the truth about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, he offered to buy the Spirit’s power. Peter corrected him, telling Simon that the Holy Spirit wasn’t for sale, and Simon then realized his mistake.

Peter had made a similar mistake in the hours prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. He pretended not to be one of Jesus’ followers. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus restored Peter, reminding the wayward disciple of his identity as a child of God and follower of Christ. Abraham and Sarah were also guilty of hiding their true identities (see Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). They twice pretended to be brother and sister. Abraham figured that, if they were honest about being married, a ruler might have Abraham killed and take Sarah as a wife.

Realizing that who we think we are isn’t what God calls us to be is never easy. Take Moses, for example. He was born a Hebrew, raised an Egyptian, and then called to turn his back on his public persona to save the people of God. Can you even imagine how difficult that must that have been?

So, Who Are You, Really?

What does all of this have to do with being a teenager today? Well, every time someone judges or is judged based on appearance, respect is given or taken superficially. When we try to impress people or put on a facade, we are dishonest about who we truly are or what we truly believe. We need to remember that we are children of God and disciples of Christ. And we need to find the strength to overcome the temptation to hide our true identities. We can do this through prayer and by surrounding ourselves with fellow believers who also have identity struggles. What it comes down to is an understanding that we are part of God’s good, beloved creation. God called creation not just good, but very good. We’re a living, breathing part of that. And as such, Romans 8:38a tells us that “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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