National Bubble Bath Day, British Pie Week, Adopt A Rescued Guinea Pig Month, I’ve always been tickled by these funny pseudo-holidays. A staple of the PR and awareness-raising arsenal, they offer easy prompts for the inspiration-starved columnist, talk DJ or primary-school teacher.
Some days are important (World Cancer Day, Zero Waste Week); some nakedly commercial (National Stationery Week or Anti-Frizz month, courtesy of Alberto V05 hair care nonetheless); and some just silly (CAPS LOCK DAY, Zombie Awareness Month).
When I discovered there are now thousands of these days laying claim to our calendar, I began wondering: what would happen to a person if they tried to observe a different one every day for a year? A ridiculous idea, with no obvious point. I was in.
Made-up holidays have been around since at least National Raisin Day – launched by California raisin-growers in 1909 – but today’s explosion of Days really coincides with the rise of social media. Anyone can create a Day now – you just need to find an audience or a fake-holiday authority to make it stick. Or a celebrity endorsement, as when President Obama tweeted “Arr you in?” on Talk Like A Pirate Day in 2012.
Commercial US calendar sites like North-Dakota based National Day Calendar sound official; if they accept your Day, they will even issue a proclamation. But these Days have names like National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day, National Dimples Day, National Something On A Stick Day — not national, or indeed holidays, in any formal sense.
The company receives “thousands of submissions a year”, says Amy Monette, a partner at National Day Calendar. Days have to be unique, social media-friendly and “worth celebrating”. There are more than 2,200 on the site. Monette is coy about sponsorship costs, which run into the thousands, but says the resulting exposure punches way above its weight. “We reach millions of people a day”.
Once you’ve established your Day and found your people, it’s time to monetise. The guys behind I Hate Coriander Day (24 February) have grown their Facebook group (mission statement: ‘We. Hate. Coriander’) to over 185,000 followers. An ‘Official I Hate Coriander OG Hoodie’ will now set you back $74.95 Austrian dollars (about £40).
John-Bryan Hopkins, “the godfather of food holidays”, revamped the edible calendar with his Foodimentary blog and book, downgrading historic observances for the likes of lard and frozen food in favour of his own creations like National Comfort Food Day (5 December) and National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day (12 November). As Hopkins discovered, the evolution of a Day from whim to canonical fact can move very fast: “The first year, it’s just me telling people to take my word. 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.”
My year-long experiment
How, though, should I observe a day in my experimental year? Holly McGuire, editor-in-chief of Chase’s Calendar of Events, a venerable resource, gave me a few pointers: “On International Talk Like a Pirate Day (19 September), people say “Arrrr!” and “Matey!” On National Chilli Day (fourth Thursday in February), they eat chilli. On Haiku Day (17 April) they read or write haikus.”
Another expert, Sam Alderson of Days Of The Year, a British-based site, offered encouragement in any type of celebration “as long as it’s coming from a sincere part of you, then any celebration — even in the smallest way — is fine”. Be fun, literal, respectful.
At the start I thought it’d all be a bit of a laugh. I went on work calls dressed as a gorilla for Wear A Gorilla Suit Day, got pelted with cake on National Fruitcake Tossing Day, and quite enjoyed my DIY yogic nasal cleanse (National Wash Your Nose Day). I dressed up as a daffodil and did 1000 squats for the Marie Curie charity, and alarmed friends by signing up for the London Marathon on Paget’s Disease Day.
I started to meet Day makers and Day followers too. My star was Jenny, who runs the Instagram account Jenny’s National Days. Each of her Instagram posts is an elaborately staged cosplay video, usually combining several of these days. Take the drama of April 26, which marks not only National Pretzel Day, but also Help a Horse Day and Richter Scale Day. In her video, Chester the cuddly horse is knocked over by an earth tremor but fortunately Jenny arrives dressed as a toy soldier to revive him with a pretzel and they ride off into the sunset.
Gradually, however, I was drawn to the more serious Days. We live in a world where World Lymphoma Awareness Day falls on the same day as National Double Cheeseburger Day (15 September), and where Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January) sits between National Peanut Butter Day and National Kazoo Day. No one in the fake holiday world seems to find this at all odd.
As my energy waned and I began to dread asking family and friends for more sponsorship money, I found myself researching topics instead, inspired by the days. From delayed cancer diagnosis to food poverty, there was so much to learn, and much to be shocked and appalled at, though none more than my own ignorance at much of it. I found myself volunteering for a foodbank and canvassing for the local Labour party.
In the slump of the summer holidays, I decided I needed to talk to more people. On their respective days, I had wonderful conversations with all sorts of people: a hermit, a lighthouse keeper, a town crier, a stationery fetishist. I became inspired by encounters with people affected by lupus, cerebral palsy, deafblindness.
In the final exhausting weeks of my year-long stint I was drawn to quick and easy actions — signing petitions, wearing wristbands, taking part in charity lotteries. I took ruthless advantage of Eat A Bagel Day and Last Minute Christmas Shopping Day.
Now I’ve stepped off the fake-holiday carousel, I see all the Days and campaigns coming around again. There is so much need out there, it’s easy to fall into fatalism and despair. But I take heart from the invisible army of volunteer heroes who just roll up their sleeves and keep going. As the sign on the foodbank door says: “Come as you are. Do what you can”.
Awareness Daze by Dan Brotzel is published by Sandstone Press on 23 November