Monday, February 17th is a federal holiday established in 1885 to celebrate the birth of first U.S. president George Washington. His birthday was February 22nd, but the holiday can range from the 17th through the 21st, depending on where the third Monday of the month falls. This arrangement was part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. Observance of 16th President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (which falls on February 12th) was also included as one of the provisions in the new act. Other February birthdays include Ronald Reagan (6th) and William Henry Harrison (9th). Nowadays, we typically celebrate ALL presidents on this civic holiday, but you can observe it however you wish.
Do not tell a lie – and bake a cherry pie.
One of the most famous stories of George Washington’s life dates back to his childhood. As the story goes, George was six years old when his father bought him his first hatchet. He loved it so much, he cut down everything in his path. He hacked away at the bark of an English cherry tree in his mother’s garden until it died. When his father confronted him wondering what had happened to the tree, George confessed: “I cannot tell a lie, you know, I cannot tell a lie; I did it, I cut it with my hatchet.” This story was first chronicled in a biography by Mason Weems, but it has been passed down generation after generation as the sort of honesty and respect for one’s parents we hope will stick with our own children.
Given the story, a popular Presidents Day tradition around the country involves the symbolic baking of cherry pie. This basic recipe calls for little more than Crisco, flour, egg, sugar, and a can of pie filling to whip up something spectacular with your child in the kitchen. Oh, and don’t forget the vanilla ice cream! If you’re looking for a more five-star recipe that doesn’t sacrifice some measure of taste for simplicity, you can try Food Network’s “Best Cherry Pie” recipe, which uses tart cherries, lemon juice, and almond extract for extra flavor. Strangely, there is no record of cherry pie in Martha Washington’s cookbook, but we did unearth her recipe for Cherry Bread and Butter Pudding you might try for something more authentic!
Take an historic trip.
Just over four hours south of here — in Alexandria, Virginia – you’ll find a month-long tribute to George Washington himself, not to mention one of the best family-friendly vacation destinations. The nation’s largest and longest-running George Washington Birthday Parade dates back to 1976 and snakes one-mile through the streets of historic Old Town Alexandria.
Other events include:
- The 12th Annual Cherry Challenge
- George Washington’s Alexandria Walking Tours
- Chocolate with General Washington for Kids
- George Washington’s 18th Century Evening Banquet and Ball
- A Family-Friendly Scavenger Hunt for Washington
- Free Concert at Market Square
Visit Washingtonbirthday.com for more details.
In addition to these special events, Alexandria has more than 140 locations with ties to America’s first president. George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, is a must for families with a live blacksmith, interactive exhibits, farm animals, gardens, and pet-friendly walking trails. Be sure to grab a bite at Gadsby’s Tavern, which served as a central hub for founding father social life with distinguished patrons such as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.
Of course, history is not the only reason to cart the whole family down to Virginia. While you’re visiting, be sure to blow off steam at Scramble, a café and colorful indoor play space geared toward kids 0-8. Bundle up to stroll the independent boutiques down King Street, or ice skate in the winter village at Cameron Run. Alexandria is home to a world-class archaeology museum, the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, art galleries, and an African-American History Museum – enough family-friendly attractions to keep you busy the whole break week long. And remember, you’re just a hop, skip, and a DC Metro jump from the Smithsonian Museums and other delights of our nation’s capital.
If you’re looking for something warmer, you might consider heading to GeorgeFest in Eustis, Florida – a lakeside community north of Orlando. This celebration of Washington’s birthday dates back to 1902 and features parades, carnivals, chili cookoffs, races, character breakfasts, and concerts.
Ponder the presidency with an activity book, story, or video.
Presidential trivia doesn’t have to be boring. Consider these fun ways to explore history together:
- For little ones: Reading is a wonderful way to bond with your child. Big, bold pictures combined with enjoyable text make these presidential reads tops in our books: The President of the Jungle; This Little President: A Presidential Primer; and Future President.
If you’re crafty, consider making these adorable mini president figures out of wood, pipe-cleaners, acrylic paint, and cloth. Or create a George Washington wig and Abe Lincoln hat out of construction paper for a Presidents Day photoshoot with your little one.
- For elementary-aged kids: Who doesn’t love the catchy songs, adorable animations, and guest star cameos of The Storybots? They’ve got a free downloadable Presidents Day activity book with coin quizzes, mazes, illustration prompts, word search, spot the difference game, and instructions how to make an Abraham Lincoln mask out of a paper plate to keep the kids busy for a while.
Grades 2-6 can learn more about the presidency with the Constitution Center’s 22-minute newsy rundown of the Executive Branch. Next, embark upon The Smithsonian’s virtual tour of The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, an exhibit featuring Lady Bird Johnson’s dessert plates, Lincoln’s split rail fence, and a collection of First Lady inaugural gowns, among other items.
If your child is a budding reader, What Presidents Are Made Of is a unique combination of mixed-media art and small vignettes from the lives of our chief executives for grades 1-5. Kids just getting into chapter books can be inspired by NY Times best-selling “Who HQ” series, where you’ll find kid-friendly accounts detailing the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, in addition to so many others.
- For middle-school kids: During the Civil War, it became customary to read George Washington’s Farewell Address on his birthday. It can be a dense read for kids, so we recommend Study.com’s five-minute video that breaks it all down.
Be sure to check out Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents — a neat read for adults and nine to 12-year-olds alike.
Presidents vs. Aliens is a cool downloadable app for Apple and Android devices, which teaches presidential facts, quotes, historical events, and nicknames mixed with a chance to fling president heads at aliens in a bowling-style game.
For a more sophisticated problem-solving game, try iCivic’s Executive Command game for PCs, which allows kids the opportunity to try their hand at the presidency for a term. They’ll propose an agenda, build a cabinet, sign bills into laws, and delegate tasks to federal agencies. Even adults find it’s a fun, interactive way to brush up on the powers of the presidency.
Check out local NYC Presidents Day events taking place all week long.
There’s no shortage of presidential activities in NYC:
- Presidential Storytime (Mount Vernon Hotel and Museum)
When: February 21, 10:30 am
For Kids ages 6 and under: Hear humorous stories about Washington and Lincoln, dig through a trunk of historic clothes, and make a finger puppet in a historic setting.
- Living History: Meet the Presidents (New York Historical Society)
When: February 15, 16, and 17th, 12–4 pm
For all ages: Meet and mingle with costumed characters resembling George Washington, James Madison, and others. They’re happy to tell stories of how they made their mark on history before you enter the new Meet the Presidents exhibit at the New York Historical Society.
When: February 17th-21st, 12:00 – 4:00 pm
For all ages: Prospect Park Alliance hosts family-friendly programming at Lefferts Historic House and the Prospect Park Audubon Center all week long:
- Wild in Winter: See what the birds are doing this winter.
- Discovery Pack: Pick up a ready-to-go nature kit with activities for families.
- Migration Games: Play floor games replicating the stages of bird migration.
- Animal Encounter: Learn about the animals in the Audubon Center’s collection.
- Great Backyard Bird Count: Submit checklists to help researchers assess bird health.
- President’s Day Trivia: Enjoy trivia and birthday cake for George and Abe.
- Coming in from the Cold: Create a small jar of scented salve for a healthy home.
When: February 16th, 1:00 – 3:00 pm
For all ages: Sample historic recipes, take a museum scavenger hunt, and learn 19th century dances with costumed characters. Adults 21+ are invited to toast to George Washington.
- Washington’s Birthday Open House (Fraunces Tavern Museum)
When: February 15-16th, guided tours 1-2 pm
For ages 8+: Visit the Scott Gallery, where you’ll see a new exhibit — A Stoic Countenance: Portraits of George Washington exhibition. Then see a lock of Washington’s hair and a fragment of his tooth in the McEntee Gallery! If you arrive for the special guided tour included with your $1 museum admission, you’ll hear all about President Washington’s connections to NYC, from his early years as a militia colonel, to his greatest military defeat, to his ascension to the presidency.