Not a day will go by this year without a supposed national day celebrating something – mostly food.
You’ve heard of them, either via your Facebook feed or on the radio or during that hour of the “Today” show when they feature videos of water-skiing squirrels.
National Lasagna Day. (That was July 29; sorry if you missed it.) National IPA Day (Aug. 4). National Cookie Day (Dec. 4).
Some of them are nonsensical, like last month’s Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day (Aug. 8).
Where did all of these seemingly random days come from?
The answer starts with online calendars that list the supposed “holidays.” There are dozens of varying popularity, but highly Google-able sites like National Day Calendar (nationaldaycalendar.com) and Days of the Year (daysoftheyear.com), which display about 1,200 and 1,500 days respectively, are at the top. For food holidays in particular, it’s Foodimentary (foodimentary.com), which regularly broadcasts 450 food holidays to its more than 850,000 Twitter followers.
From there, marketers, journalists and local businesses latch on, promoting different days for various reasons: to sell products, to bring people into their restaurant on a slow Tuesday. Hashtags are created, and a phenomenon begins.
But back to the origin. The United States recognizes only 10 days as national holidays, and they’re the big ones like Christmas and Independence Day. Go down a level and you’ve got government-sanctioned national observances, like Mother’s Day and Flag Day. But there are only 44 of those, and the closest any get to a wacky food holiday is National School Lunch Day.
Here is how the rest wound up on those calendars.
Sometimes, “national days” are created via presidential proclamation or a resolution in the House or Senate. On July 9, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5119 declaring National Ice Cream Day, praising it as a “nutritious and wholesome food.” Other Reagan proclamations included National Frozen Food Day, also in 1984, and Catfish Day on June 25, 1987.
The catch is that such proclamations are meant to be a one-time deal, so there technically hasn’t been an official National Ice Cream Day since the ’80s. But that didn’t stop shops across the United States from giving out free scoops on July 17.
Marlo Anderson, 53, founder of National Day Calendar based in Mandan, N.D., says only a small fraction of celebrated days have any whiff of government officialness. Others may have been proclaimed at one time on a state, city or county level, and spread outward. Some are rooted in local traditions or history, such as the massively popular National Doughnut Day. While that day now centers around freebies, it sprang from the Salvation Army’s practice of serving doughnuts to soldiers on the front lines of World War I, where resourceful “doughnut lassies” fried the dough in soldiers’ helmets.
A fair amount of national days are invented by organizations or companies looking to drum up interest. That’s where you get National Drive-Thru Day, created by the fast-food chain Jack in the Box, or National Underwear Day, from the online underwear retailer Freshpair.
And yet others are simply made up by random people. John-Bryan Hopkins is the social media consultant from Alabama who created Foodimentary, which he started by compiling about 200 food holidays that already existed in some form. He readily admits to then making up Tater Tot Day, National Whiskey Day and others starting in 2006 as a way to fill up the rest of the calendar.
“Early on, I’d wake up in the morning and realize I didn’t have anything for the blog that day,” he said. “I’d think, ‘What day can I make today?’ ”
Jonathan Alderson, who runs Days of the Year with Samantha Simpson, doesn’t see a problem with that.
“To some degree, all holidays are ‘made up,’ Christmas, etc., included. Arguably, they’ve just been around for longer,” he wrote via email from London. “Burger Day, as our go-to example, was very definitely made up. But if everybody celebrates it, does it matter whether it was a formal proclamation by a president … or a whim-gone-viral which brings a smile to people’s faces? I’m not convinced that there’s much difference.”
Alderson has a point. The thing about these holidays is that people do celebrate them. They become so popular, particularly on social media, that they sort of become official.
Brendon Urie from the band Panic! at the Disco got nearly 15,000 likes when he tweeted a picture of him in boxers with the tag #nationalunderwearday. National Trails Day was never officially proclaimed by a president, but the very official National Park Service participates regularly. And International Talk Like a Pirate Day was invented on a racquetball court in 1995 by a couple of guys who go by the monikers “Chum Bucket” and “Cap’n Slappy.” But when President Barack Obama tweeted “Arr you in?” on Sept. 19, 2012, the tweet got 3,000-plus retweets.
Amanda Putman, a content manager for Inform who regularly sends out press releases tied to various national days, said her company promotes food holidays because they work with content providers like the Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray brands and Bon Appétit magazine. For them, it’s a hook on which they can hang more promotion.
Isaac Sorensen of public relations company Kohnstamm Communications said there is a bonus “subconscious factor” to these holidays, which have built-in promotion for certain products.
“What does someone start hankering for on National Chocolate Day?” he said.
Both said they celebrate various food holidays on their own time.
“What better excuse to make a homemade watermelon treat or go out to my favorite Mexican restaurant because it’s National Guacamole Day?” Putman said. “It’s a fun excuse to celebrate on a random day of the month, and a lot of times I end up adding a new favorite recipe to my collection.”
Putman thinks this sort of constant celebration has become popular because it brings people together. And Twitter makes it that much easier to collectively rally around anything.
“I truly think we have social media to thank for making these national food days a ‘thing,’ ” she said. “People love to post their favorite creations to Instagram or Facebook. It is all about that hashtag.”
Sorensen takes it a step further.
“In a lot of instances, social media will dictate how important a food holiday becomes. It’s kind of crazy to think, but the popularity of a food holiday on social is really a driver of whether or not it ends up on mainstream news.”
This didn’t begin with the internet. The viral nature of our modern times has just allowed for more hype, more frenzy, more public participation.
Some of these days have been around for decades, perpetuated by their inclusion in various print calendars, though many of their origin stories have been lost to time.
Chase’s Calendar of Events, published in print annually since 1958, was created as a resource for newspapers to keep track of regular holidays with movable dates. In 1959, the U.S. Department of Commerce asked Chase’s to absorb a publication called “Special Days, Weeks and Months.”
Many of these, said Chase’s editor Holly McGuire, “are the seed for some of the special days you see trending on Twitter.” The first edition included June Dairy Month, National Honey Month, National Hot Tea Month and Sweetest Day, founded in 1921 by an Ohio candymaker who gave out small gifts and treats to “newsboys, orphans, old folks and the poor.”
Marlo Anderson launched National Day Calendar in 2013 after he found it difficult to find information on National Popcorn Day. He catalogued about 1,100 days in the first year, cobbling them together from various websites, Facebook pages and other sources.
Since then the site has added about 90 more days, which came from outside submissions. Anderson said the site receives about 18,000 a year.
Before becoming a “holiday,” each submission goes through a committee: A four-person team in a room in North Dakota reviews them and debates their inclusion based on national relevance and their chance of being widely celebrated. Decisions have to be unanimous.
The most commonly rejected submissions, Anderson said, are national days dedicated to a girlfriend or boyfriend.
“We get that all the time. They say, ‘I’m so in love with her.’ But by the time we get around to telling them no, they’re already broken up.”
National Day Calendar charges between $2,300 and $4,000 to add new days, though Anderson says the committee process means people can’t simply pay to create a new one.
Part of what you get for the money: a framed proclamation saying your new day is “official.”
BTW: Sept. 4 is National Macadamia Nut Day. Go nuts!