There are countless ways to honor Gen. George Washington—during his birthday celebration and throughout the year.
Appropriate Activities to Honor Washington Any Time of the Year…
Plan an educational presentation about George Washington’s life. Members of the George Washington Chapter of Sons of the American Revolution, wearing their American Revolutionary Army officer uniforms, will offer programs to showcase their military attire, share accounts of George Washington’s life and contributions to our country, recount highlights of important battles in our war for independence, and other related topics. These presentations are appropriate for all ages, families, and organizations such as school groups and civic associations. Contact the GWBCC for more information.
Learn something new every day in the spirit of Washington!
Honor Gen. Washington’s military service. Create cards and notes and send to veterans. Visit hospitalized veterans. Sing patriotic and military songs like the Navy hymn and anthems of the Army, Air Force, etc. Play musical instruments, especially stringed, which are calming (not loud instruments which may disturb people in other rooms). Chat about vets’ school experiences, your school and activities like sports, scouting, favorite foods, books, etc. Washington was always concerned for the welfare of his soldiers, both during and after their service. In 1783, he served as the first President General of the new Society of the Cincinnati, a fraternal organization founded by one of his military commanders, Henry Knox, as a way for all officers (American and French) to continue their association and remember the importance of the War of Independence. Those officers’ descendants continue the organization. The Society is proud of its porcelain china bearing the Eagle insignia of the Society, one of three marks of membership, along with the gold Eagle badge and parchment certificate. Washington also instituted the Military Order of the Purple Heart to recognize those who had shed their blood for freedom.
Learn about our US flag (a good website is the Veterans of Foreign Wars flag etiquette page). Find out about the symbolism of the stripes, blue field, stars and their colors. Learn which star belongs to your state. (Assigned according to their order of entry into the union. Delaware’s is first; Virginia’s, 10th. Start counting from the top row, from the staff side to the outer edge. For the stripes, start counting from the bottom. Delaware’s is on the bottom; VA’s is 10th counting upward.) Washington created a flag for himself as commander-in-chief of our armed forces; it flew outside his tent or headquarters (blue with thirteen white stars in rows). He was on the committee that drew up suggestions for our flag during the Revolution. Note its similarity to the Washington coat of arms – colors red and white, stripes.
Do a good deed for the poor, just as Washington did regularly. He was well known for his philanthropy. He’s profiled in Philanthropy Roundtable’s online Almanac of American Philanthropy’s Hall of Fame. And Mount Vernon’s archives showcase his support of the Alexandria Academy and provide additional information about Washington’s humanitarianism:
“It is also clear that Washington was a humanitarian. He helped to care for the poor and believed strongly in charity, which he exercised privately. Regarding his own estate he stated [in a letter to Lund Washington on 26 November, 1775], 'Let the Hospitality of the House, with respect to the poor, be kept up…I have no objection to your giving my Money to Charity…when you think it is well bestowed. What I mean, by having no objection, is, that it is my desire that it should be done.’”
Write a letter about some aspect of current public affairs on which you feel strongly and send it to the appropriate official and/or editor of a local paper. (Washington did so regularly, trying to influence others.)
Washington was a superb athlete—he even excelled at swimming! Being able to swim was unusual in his day, but he was such a strong swimmer that he saved his own life and that of Christopher Gist when their raft was upended in icy waters; he carried his unconscious companion to safety on the shore. (Maybe you could convince your swim coaches to name your next swim tournament for Washington?)
Washington was noted for his height (6' 2 1/2") and strength (like his father who was 6'5"). During a winter camp in the Revolution, Washington picked up two soldiers from different colonies who were fighting each other (which happened often enough to be worrisome). He put them down, told them to stop it, and save their energy to use against the British. He wrestled (as the oldest, he had 3 younger brothers to keep in line), and he loved foot racing and throwing stones as far as possible. You could organize a George Washington Sports Day!
Washington loved dogs, especially his hounds for fox hunting, so enjoy your pets! He named his favorite hound Sweet Lips. Of course, he was an expert horseman too. Read more about Washington and his dogs here at MountVernon.org.
Declare a George Washington Science Day. He loved science!
For physics: Washington put a large balloon on the bowling green (large expanse of lawn) in front of the mansion shortly after the Montgolfier brothers began experimenting with heated air. These French brothers, who were the sons of a paper manufacturer, discovered that collecting heated air in a lightweight paper bag would cause it to rise. The first non-tethered hot air balloon flight was in November 1783. Read more about George Washington, hot air balloons, and his interest in new technology at Mount Vernon’s website.
For biology: Plant something! Washington studied how plants, shrubs, trees, flowers and crops grew, trying to improve them. He rotated crops (an innovation) and kept daily records of the weather. He thought of himself primarily as a farmer and was happiest at Mount Vernon riding around his five farms. He also was interested in exotic animals; he kept a camel, Alladin, on the bowling green during the Christmas festivities for the amusement of his guests. He also recognized the value of mules and gave them to the army; they are the ancestors of many mules now used by our army and were widely used in the settlement of our West. He continually bred farm animals to increase their value and usefulness.
Do something healthy! Washington had his soldiers inoculated against smallpox when that procedure was new and people feared the vaccine would give them the disease—a disease which was often fatal. His wife, (always called “Patsy”, never “Martha”), set a public example for the men in winter camp when she had the procedure. That vaccination saved the men from an epidemic that would have sapped his army’s effectiveness and made them easy pickings for the British. Be sure your shots are up to date!
Build a raised plant bed, greenhouse, tree house, birdhouse or doghouse. Washington was an architect who devised a 16 sided barn which provided an improved method of threshing. He also planned Mount Vernon’s mansion; he expanded it from a one-story three room house to its current impressive state. Unlike Jefferson, he did not pull down and rebuild; once built, the additions stayed. He had an eye for internal comfort and convenience (placement of windows and doors) so the exterior elements are not absolutely symmetrical but are pleasingly harmonious.
Go to church to give thanks for your blessings. Washington was an active churchman, serving on the Pohick Church (Anglican, located in Lorton) vestry for 22 years and also attended Christ Church, Alexandria, mainly after his Presidency. He attended church regularly, not always the Anglican/Episcopal; he attended those of other denominations too. He was present at the organizational meeting of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Alexandria and contributed the equivalent of $1200 (2017 value) to its construction. He surveyed the site for the original church and cemetery on the south end of Alexandria. He insisted on paid chaplains for the troops during the Revolution and required all soldiers, enlisted and officers, to attend service on Sunday. He forbade cursing, saying we could not expect God’s help for our cause if we were disrespectful to Him. He added “So help me, God” to the Presidential oath. His first Presidential proclamation called for a day of thanksgiving for our blessings.
Write a prayer. Washington wrote prayers, including ones for our country and people, and regularly led evening prayer at Mount Vernon. Pray regularly at a set time (easier if you are on a schedule).
Plan a field trip to Mount Vernon. Ask for student/group discounts. There is so much to see and do that this could easily be an entire day.
If you’re studying Gen. Washington in school or on your own time, here are some ways you could add to your research and questions you could consider as a part of your studies:
Research the lives of some of the ancients that Washington admired such as Cato and Cincinnatus. Would we admire them? Why (not)? What does his choice of heroes tell about his character and values? Write about your heroes (must be people long dead whom you did not know personally and not a family member or friend). Why do you admire him, her, them?
Washington decided as a young man that he would seek fame and fortune. He was a planner who set daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals. He kept a diary which listed key activities and information about each day. He kept meticulous account of his income and expenditures. He changed careers several times, from surveyor, to military, to politics to farming. (Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin also were very organized people who excelled in many fields.) What are your personal and professional goals for your future? How do you plan to achieve them?
Washington and his contemporaries prized the best of their English heritage. But after winning independence, they felt they needed to be distinguished as Americans. What does it mean to be an American today?
Washington expected to be hung as a traitor if captured. He led his men in battle, putting his life into certain danger many times. His estate suffered in his absences during the Revolution and his Presidency. He prospered when he could devote time to his interests at Mount Vernon because he was a careful and innovative manager. He saw others impoverished as a result of their patriotism because Congress did not reimburse them for expenses; among them was his brother-in-law Fielding Lewis and friend Carter Braxton (signer of the Declaration of Independence). What is worth fighting for? Potentially sacrificing your life and all you own?
Washington was a justice of the peace, member of the VA House of Burgesses (legislature), head of the VA militia when he was only 23 (a colonel), a diplomatic emissary from Lt. Gov. Dinwiddie to the French at Fort Duquesne (near Pittsburg), commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary forces, and our first President (with no precedents to guide him, he had to decide absolutely everything). What virtues are most admirable and necessary in a leader (civic, military and/or political)?
(Many thanks to Ellen Tabb of the GWBCC for assembling these ideas!)