If you have ever Googled the name of a holiday—one that's traditional and familiar, or one of the quirky ones out there like Talk Like a Pirate Day—you've probably come across a holiday-themed website with a calendar listing a staggering number of events, annual celebrations, and "holidays" that you never knew existed.
This month, for example, kicked off with National Heimlich Maneuver Day on June 1. June 2 was dedicated to National Bubba Day—to, you know, celebrate all the folks nicknamed or actually named Bubba. National Donut Day always takes place on the first Friday of June, with giveaways on June 6 this year. National Iced Tea Day followed a few days later, with free Teavana beverages at Starbucks on June 10. Looking ahead, June 22 is National Onion Ring Day, and on and on.
Whole months are also dedicated to different organizations, products, and campaigns. May was both National Barbecue Month and National Hamburger Month, which seems like overlap. It was also Date Your Mate Month and International Masturbation Month, which seems like a mixed message. June is, among other things, Aquarium Month, Candy Month, Dairy Month, and Rose Month, and who could forget that most essential of events: Accordion Awareness Month.
June 18 happens to be a busy one for fake holidays: It's Go Fishing Day, International Panic Day, International Picnic Day, National Splurge Day, and International Sushi Day all rolled up (ha-ha, like sushi, get it?) into one dizzying jumble of a day. The appropriate way to celebrate, I believe, is to splurge on a fancy new fishing pole, go fishing, then have a huge panic attack out on the water out of concern for the state of global relations. Oh, and throw in a picnic at some point, ideally with friends from overseas. And with sushi too.
But how to celebrate these days is probably not the right question. Instead, we might ask: Where do these holidays come from? And why should we give a flying fig? (Fig Newton Day, btw, is January 16.)
Jaded consumers might think that these days and months are just created out of the blue, whenever some random dude is bored or some company or association decides it wants a "holiday" for pumping up sales and marketing products. And guess what? After putting on my ace reporter fedora hat and investigating the origins of many of these days, I can confirm that, yeah, that's exactly how a lot of these events are created.
National Splurge Day was created on a whim two decades ago by a woman from Chicago billed as "America's Premier Eventologist," Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith. What motivated her to whip up what she calls a "holidate"? "I became tremendously bored with the Traditional Holidays (and we know who they are) when I was 38," Sioux Koopersmith said via e-mail. She explained her thought process this way: "Let’s get rid of the 2-faced Holidays where a Person has to SHOW-UP at a relative's or put on a happy face; or buy a present or do something only because it is part of the Fabric of Modern Life. So I created my own, which I like much better."
Similarly, Tom Torriglia, a professional accordionist based in Italy who regularly plays in northern California, explained via e-mail how he created National Accordion Awareness Month back in 1989: "It was established as simply as me deciding it would exist."
While the National Onion Association is actively promoting the upcoming National Onion Ring Day, the organization curiously had nothing to do with its creation. Instead, an association spokesperson offered some suggestions for celebrating O-Ring Day (swap ideas for recipes and dipping sauces and "maybe have an onion ring tossing contest?"), then steered me to John-Bryan Hopkins, a food writer from Birmingham, Alabama, and founder of the popular website Foodimentary. Hopkins has 845,000 followers on Twitter, and his was named one of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds by TIME last year.
And yes, Hopkins freely and proudly admits that he just made up Onion Ring Day a few years ago. In fact, he's created hundreds of such "holidays." In a phone interview, Hopkins explained that when Foodimentary.com went live in 2006, there were already around 175 food-related holidays—many, like National Donut Day, established during the World War era—listed on various calendars. "I filled in the rest," he said, to ensure there was at least one food holiday for every day of the year.
What's more, from time to time, he gets rid of some holiday that doesn't get him excited and replaces it with one that's more appealing. "They're just like my little children," Hopkins said of the holidays he creates. "I might wake up a little groggy one morning and decide that I don't like what's being celebrated that day. So I make it a new one."
For instance, Hopkins wasn't a fan of Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, which supposedly takes place on June 13. "That was one I hated. How stupid of a day is that?" So, presto, change-o! With a quick update of his online calendar, he redubbed June 13 as the sure-to-please Cupcake Lover's Day. "I'm not Mr. Health Food Celebration Day," he said. (Froot Loop Day is another of his babies.) "I like the foods that America really likes."
When asked to name his favorite self-manufactured holiday, Hopkins offered two focused on beloved mainstream comfort foods: National Oreo Cookie Day, which he subbed into the March 6 slot formerly held by National Frozen Food Day ("You want to celebrate frozen food in early March?") and National Tater Tot Day, which shares billing with Groundhog Day on February 2.
Interestingly, what Hopkins enjoys most about Tater Tot Day—besides, you know, the pure deliciousness of Tater Tots—is that it was declared bogus a couple of years ago. In 2012, a Dallas Observer reporter called up the folks at Ore-Ida, the brand that produces Tater Tots, to get more info about the day, and the company had never heard of it. Hopkins owned up to his creation in an e-mail to the reporter. "You got me! Yes indeed! I created this holiday in 2009," he wrote.
What's there for Hopkins to love about this? Well, despite the debunking, "nobody cared," said Hopkins. "People still want to celebrate Tater Tots and Tater Tot Day. They Tweet about it, they share recipes, and it's a trending topic that day. I just think this is the best thing ever."
Hopkins explained that the creation of a holiday takes a little time to take root. "The first year, it's just me telling people to take my word," he said. "By year two, the news people believe it because it was around the previous year. When year three comes, it's like it was written in the Bible."
In a way, the establishment of a holiday in this fashion by some random foodie blogger is just as valid as an event carefully concocted for maximum impact by a big company's marketing department. Perhaps even more valid. At least Hopkins isn't trying to sell us anything, other than the idea that his Twitter feed is worth following and his faux holidays are worth celebrating.
That's more than you can say for some online "holiday" calendars out there. At least one site, NationalDayCalendar.com, charges (reportedly upwards of $800) for a package that includes creation of a holiday, a listing on the site, as well as a framed certificate and the development of a press kit. The same site also charges $19.99 for individuals wanting a one-time virtual national day of recognition posted online for an anniversary, birthday, or other event.
Hopkins said that the idea of selling off holidays is "offensive," and that charging for the creation of days "will eventually degrade its importance and even make food holidays a joke." He lives in fear that one day, people will grow bored with food holidays, and that his website traffic and Twitter following could both collapse. "I keep thinking people are going to stop being interested, that I'll Tweet something and no one will care," he said. "But it doesn't happen."
To keep people interested, Hopkins insists, fake holidays must be created the proper way—with integrity. "I take what I do seriously," he said, "and want to protect it from abuse."