Americans celebrated Washington's Birthday while he was still alive. They were grateful for a strong leader who had proven that democracy was a feasible way to govern the growing country. And, while he was alive, legends grew up about him. The most famous one says that he was so strong; he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. Some Americans argue that this is a true story. Parts of the Potomac River, they say, were extremely narrow a few hundred years ago! Another story which has never been proven, but Americans pass down to their children as a lesson:
When George Washington was young, his father gave him a hatchet. He tried to cut down a cherry tree with it. His father noticed the cuts on the tree, and asked his son how they got there. "I cannot tell a lie," George said, "I did it with my hatchet." Perhaps George Washington had no hatchet, and perhaps there were no cherry trees where he grew up. However, George Washington today represents honesty, and cherry pies have become a favourite food associated with his birthday.
Various communities observe the holiday by staging pageants (организацией парадов) and re-enactments of important milestones (этапы) in Washington's life. Also, the holiday has taken on another side, much more commercial in nature. Many shopping malls and stores run Presidents' Day sales to attract shoppers who have the day off from work or school.
The White House
While in office, George Washington held a contest for the best architectural design of a "President's Palace." Among the competitors was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and an architect.
His design was entered anonymously, sighed only with the initials "A. Z." It didn't win. An Irish architect named James Hoban won $500, a piece of land, and of course the honour of having his plans used in the final design.
Americans called it the "President's House" because the word "palace" reminded them of the monarchy that they recently broke away from. The official name was the "Executive Mansion" from 1818-1902. Today it is called simply "The White House." Some historians say that people began calling it the White House because it was painted white after being restored after it had been burned by the British in 1812. Another legend is that George Washington named it after his wife's house in the state of Virginia.
The first president never had the chance to stay there. Washington died on December 14, 1799, one year before the White House was completed during the Presidency of John Adams. In 1806, Thomas Jefferson had another chance at designing the White House when he moved in as third President. Much of the house and Jefferson's additions were destroyed in the War of 1812. When it was rebuilt, however, James Hoban supervised the work. The White House was redecorated in 1881 and again in 1902 by the current presidents, and each change reflected the style of the times. It was completely renovated in 1949 when Harry S. Truman was President.
In 1960 when John Kennedy became President, his wife Jacqueline redecorated the White House to display the beauty of American furnishings and art. The gardens outside were beautified and enlarged. Since then the presidents' wives have continued to maintain their home in a tasteful style.
It was 1866 and the United States was recovering from the long and bloody Civil War between the North and the South. Surviving soldiers came home, some with missing limbs (конечностями), and all with stories to tell. Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, New York, heard the stories and had an idea. He suggested that all the shops in town close for one day to honour the soldiers who were killed in the Civil War and were buried in the Waterloo cemetery. On the morning of May 5, the townspeople placed flowers, wreaths and crosses on the graves of the Northern soldiers in the cemetery. At about the same time, Retired Major General Jonathan A. Logan planned another ceremony, this time for the soldiers who survived the war. He led the veterans through town to the cemetery to decorate their comrades' (товарищей) graves with flags. It was not a happy celebration, but a memorial. The townspeople called it Decoration Day.
In Retired Major General Logan's proclamation of Memorial Day, he declared:
"The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defence of their country and during the late rebellion (восстание), and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."
The two ceremonies were joined in 1868, and northern states commemorated (отметили) the day on May 30. The southern states commemorated their war dead on different days. Children read poems and sang civil war songs and veterans came to school wearing their medals and uniforms to tell students about the Civil War. Then the veterans marched through their home towns followed by the townspeople to the cemetery. They decorated graves and took photographs of soldiers next to American flags. Rifles were shot in the air as a salute to the northern soldiers who had given their lives to keep the United States together.
In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day and soldiers who had died in previous wars were honoured as well. In the northern United States, it was designated a public holiday. In 1971, along with other holidays, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the last Monday in May.
Cities all around the United States hold their own ceremonies on the last Monday in May (some southern states continue to celebrate Memorial Day on various days, i.e. June 3rd in Louisiana and Tennessee called "Confederate Memorial Day" and on May 10th in North and South Carolina to pay respect to the men and women who have died in wars or in the service of their country).
Memorial Day is not limited to honour only those Americans from the armed forces. It is also a day for personal remembrance. Families and individuals honour the memories of their loved ones who have died. Church services, visits to the cemetery, flowers on graves or even silent tribute mark the day with dignity and solemnity (достоинство и торжественность).
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