Where Do Those Weird Food Holidays Come From?

If you've ever wondered why we celebrate National Pancake Day and National Burrito Day…

national food holidays
Photo: © Jeffrey Coolidge / Getty Images

While scrolling through your Twitter feed on any given day of the year you've probably noticed some trending hashtags touting that today is "National Some-Kind-Of-Food Day." These observances aren't just limited to edible and imbibe-able items, there's also a National Siblings Day and National Talk Like A Pirate Day. They almost sound made up, and that's chiefly due to the fact that, in large part, they are. A recent episode of NPR's Planet Money podcast tracked down the origin of another strange observance, National Splurge Day, to find out exactly how these oddball holidays get on the books.

To be fair, the history of these weird designated days goes back over a century to savvy interest groups like the Fresno Chamber of Commerce pushing National Raisin Day (April 30) to bolster its local products. The U.S. Government also put a bunch of "commemorative periods" on the calendar in the mid-1980s when nearly one third of all laws passed were for establishing National Bowling Week or National Air Traffic Control Day. That practice was ended in 1995, and certainly National Splurge Day doesn't sound like anything a statesperson would pitch on the floor of Congress.

Planet Money host Kenny Malone first noticed local news covering National Splurge Day with a segment on indulgent treats, which led him to wonder how the holiday was pitched to that station and, as he found, many other stations across the country. After finding that many news producers wouldn't go on record to reveal their process, a Sacramento-based producer did finally give Malone the name of the PR rep who approached him.

That PR rep, in turn, told Planet Money she keeps a running list of these unofficial appreciation days to use as a tool in helping to get her clients and their products coverage. Fair enough. And when it comes to finding and keeping track of which days are for celebrating which foods, drinks and intangible concepts there are two main organizations of record: Chase's Calendar of Events and the National Day Calendar.

Chase's, which began as a pamphlet to aid in remembering which transient holidays occurred when each year, is a branch of a publishing house. Anyone can submit an idea for a holiday, but Chase's vets these pitches to make sure they aren't the product of some joker's late night internet trolling session. Once accepted, a "special day" has to be renewed each year by the original party who asked for it. Chase's Calendar of Events is printed in a 752-page book anually, and can also be subscribed to online for access to the as-official-as-it-gets list.

If you're wondering what the vetting entails, it comes down to making sure it's not a person, their birthday or other figure that would take an act of Congress to acknowledge, and that the holiday is actually celebrated by a group of people beyond a few tweets or, say, Lay's trying to make up National Potato Chip Day.

National Day Calendar takes a slightly different approach, giving interested parties a path to establishing their holiday, which we wrote about previously. The basic process is that an idea is submitted, vetted by the team behind the website, and then (for a fee) will receive a certificate to commemorate the founding of that day, a tout on their social media and a mention in their calendar blasts to broadcast outlets. These days can be product focused, but can also include town founding anniversaries or other historical remembrances for one-time inclusion.

So with multiple entities vying to publish their own commemoration calendars, you might assume there's an out and out war in the un-official holiday business. But it seems Chase's and National Day Calendar get along just fine, with one occasionally using the other for verification as Chase's editor in chief Holly McGuire explained via email. "Basically, new special days (we don't call them holidays unless they're religious, civic, or folkloric) enter the book/e-book through submissions or our research. People who submit need to demonstrate a commitment to the day they sponsor and/or that it exists," she said. "Sometimes, submitters mention that their day is already in the National Day Calendar (and therefore it exists). So we do check the National Day Calendar to verify that."

National Day Calendar founder Marlo Anderson replied to our request for comment in kind saying, "We utilize some of the days they publish, but we only recognize about 1,500 National Days. Chase's has been the go-to source for decades for all events and is an amazing publication."

As for National Splurge Day, a Chicago woman submitted the idea to Chase's back in the mid-1990s. She's since removed it from the calendar, partly because she felt it was being co-opted by companies. (Her story is particularly fascinating, and well worth a listen on your commute.)

That commercialization is certainly the case with many of the food-related celebrations. In the end, these weird days are sort of Mad Hatter holidays, the un-birthdays between Christmas, Independence Day and Halloween, which allow the country to indulge just a little in something we might have forgotten we love. And what's wrong with that?

Then again, who forgets about a thing like dessert?

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