George Washington Cherry Tree

February 20, 2012 by staff 

George Washington Cherry Tree, As a boy, my father and I shared a love of cherry pie. It was only natural, then, that my family had a custom of having cherry pie on Feb. 22 — George Washington’s birthday.

The eating of pie was in keeping with the widely held belief, which historians have since proved was a myth, that Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree and, when confronted with the evidence, confessed, supposedly having said, “I cannot tell at lie.”

The story was to teach us that Washington was an honest man, a person we were to emulate. I learned more about Washington by visiting his home Mount Vernon, when I was 12 years old. That experience shaped the course of my life, just as working at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville inspires me daily.

My family’s tradition of eating cherry pie Feb. 22 was back when we observed Washington’s actual birthday, as we did Abraham Lincoln’s on Feb. 12. That changed in 1971, when Congress instituted Presidents Day as part of a package of Monday holidays. Thus, we began to commemorate both of these two celebrated presidents on the third Monday in February. Many people believe that Presidents Day includes all U.S. presidents, but that is not the case.

Presidents Day is an excellent time for us to reflect on our presidents and remember that they were real people, who made personal sacrifices to serve our nation. Washington took office even though he would have preferred to remain at Mount Vernon. During his presidency, Lincoln lost his second son. Perhaps most poignant of all, Andrew Jackson lost his beloved wife, Rachel, just weeks before his inauguration. Each of these men carried on to serve our country at a time when it needed their leadership.

Whether we commemorate, celebrate, remember or rue past presidents on one special day or multiple special days, there is tremendous importance for us to reflect on how these men have shaped the course of our nation’s development and the evolution of our democracy. Each president has left his stamp on the office and on the nation. Conversely, each president is to a degree the reflection of the nation’s temperament at that point in time — the political, economic, social and cultural forces at play that put him in the nation’s highest office. So it is important to be cautious about judging their actions by the standards of our own time.

On this Presidents Day, I challenge you to make some time to reflect back your favorite president or perhaps re-examine one you dislike. Read a book or visit a website to learn more about the man behind the title. Better still, visit one of the many presidential homes or libraries, where history is in three dimensions. That experience can last a lifetime.

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