February is a very interesting month. It’s host to “President’s Day” where the nation shuts down and recognizes George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Government agencies (including the courts, banks and most public schools) are closed for the day, and there’s no snail mail delivery. George Washington is the father of the nation and was the general in charge when the thirteen original colonies successfully fought off the British and formed the United States of America. Almost one hundred years later, when many southern states were trying desperately to secede from the union and create a separate confederate nation, Abraham Lincoln’s leadership, vision and brilliant prose (as immortalized in the “Gettysburg Address” and the “Emancipation Proclamation”) preserved the union and abolished the practice of slavery. Members of an elite club of only 44 members, the accomplishments of these two presidents (affectionately known as number 1 and number 16) are worthy of a national holiday in their honor, even though I’ve never quite understood exactly what we’re supposed to do on President’s Day. Many people fly their flag on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, but I don’t see many flags waving in February in honor of President’s Day; perhaps because it’s often the coldest month of the year in many states and the flagpole is frozen stiff like a popsicle.
When I was in high school, President’s Day was an extra day to complete the homework that I hadn’t completed over the weekend. My teen and tween heirs now celebrate President’s Day the same way, sometimes throwing in a trip to the health club, a matinee and lunch for good measure. In January, when the nation honors the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., people are encouraged to make it a “day of service.” That makes since to me since Dr. King gave his life in service to others. Many families volunteer in a food pantry or serve meals to the homeless. Not all schools are closed on Martin Luther King Day (or President’s Day for that matter) so this year, one of my friends withdrew her sons from school for a couple of hours so that they could participate in a service day activity. I get that. When my children attended a school that wasn’t closed on Martin Luther King Day, I kept them home. Admittedly, it was more a statement of protest than a commitment to service because we usually attended a movie or visited a museum. I’m “almost” (translation: not quite enough to NOT write about it) embarrassed to admit that this year was no different. We attended a basketball game to cheer on our beloved Chicago Bulls. Guilted by my service driven friend, I plan to sign my brood up for a King Day service project next year.
In addition to President’s Day, February also boasts Valentine’s Day, where Hallmark card sales soar and florists are scrambling to keep up with the demand for red roses. To many, Valentine’s Day ought to be a national holiday. Restaurant business booms on February 14th, no matter what day of the week the 14th falls. I’ve heard of savvy teenage babysitters doubling their rates for Valentine’s Day because they know that parents will pay whatever they request. “If I babysit for you on Valentine’s Day then I won’t be able to go out to dinner with my boyfriend, so my Valentine’s Day rate is double.” That’s a very smart business strategy. It’s the same logic that airlines use when they mark up their airfare for Christmas and Thanksgiving travel. ‘We know that you want to travel home and see your obnoxious, dysfunctional family over the holidays, and we know that you’ll pay whatever we charge!’
For many, February is the month where the New Year’s resolution to eat better is destroyed when their Valentine’s card is accompanied by a box of turtles or their favorite sweet treat. February is also the month when the Girl Scouts peddle their cookies. Attired in their little Girl Scout uniforms, it’s humanly impossible not to buy at least one box of cookies from each Scout that comes a calling. Fat Tuesday is also celebrated in February, beads are strewn in New Orleans and after a day of debauchery (and in some cases lewdness) many pledge to give up something substantive for 40 days in an effort to sacrifice to the flesh and prepare the spirit for the Easter season, the holiest time of the year on the Christian calendar.
The Academy Awards are also aired in February, so cinema sales increase as people scramble to see the nominated movies and actors to judge for themselves if the winners are actually Oscar worthy.
And some years (like this year) the Super Bowl is played in February, which creates a buzz of economic activity for the host city and winning team. Thanks to my dad, I love football, but many of my friends of the female persuasion don’t understand football, yet they dutifully attend Super Bowl parties year after year.
Each February, the nation pauses to recognize Black History Month. I almost typed pauses to “celebrate” Black History Month, but reconsidered my word choice since not everyone “celebrates” Black History Month. In fact, many people don’t understand the need for Black History Month. Nonetheless, the significant contributions of African Americans are highlighted during February. For those paying attention, in February, there are more commercials aired featuring African Americans, companies feature more people of color in their print advertising and some schools attempt to supplement their mainstream curriculums to teach students about the many and varied contributions of those not traditionally featured in the standard textbooks and curriculum.
There is a tremendous amount of activity packed into the shortest month of the year, and let’s not talk about the leap year concept where every 4th year, February has 29 days instead of 28.
February is an odd little month packed with fun, love and freedom, so I think it’s fitting that lawmakers in the state of Washington voted in favor of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriages in February. The law will go into effect in June, (unless opponents press to have it placed on the November, 2012 ballot), but the bill was approved in February, the month targeted to celebrate fun, love and freedom.
In one of my newly released novels, one of the characters finally acknowledges that she is gay. Because my genre is teen fiction, the topic is not explored in a sexual nature at all, but from a tolerance and acceptance level. It is a very G rated read, but begs the question: “What happens when a young adult ‘comes out’ to her friends? How is the friendship dynamic impacted or altered?”
This country was built on a fight for rites. The rite to have representation with taxation; the rite to own slaves; the rite of a man to be considered a man and not property; the fight for equal rights for all races, and the rite for equal pay for equal work. There are many other rites, but I’ll stop here. It wasn’t that long ago that it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry in many states. It was actually a crime for a black person and a white person to wed, which seems absurd now. In fact, some people still don’t approve of interracial dating or marriage, but it’s no longer a crime.
Think about it like this, February is a unique month replete with more celebrations and traditions than any other month, including some that we don’t fully understand yet we allow them (and/or participate in them) anyway. February is different, yet we embrace it and allow it to do its thing. We don't really know what to do on President's Day, yet we enjoy the day off nonetheless, just like we don't bar people who don't understand or appreciate football from attending Super Bowl parties. Two people in love are simply that, two people in love, even if the love looks different or odd to the mainstream football fans. Maybe a rainbow colored flag will be flown by some on President’s Day in honor of the presidents who fought so that freedom could one day be enjoyed by all.