A Tale of Two Fake Holidays

Written by a single child and a pet hater

A. National Siblings Day

National Siblings Day apparently took place on April 10th. It is not a national holiday, because the law requires it to at least be recognized through Presidential proclamation. No one knows if the day celebrates your solitary sibling or your numerous siblings. The social media posts I saw regarding this holiday mostly went online after sundown.

If you believe the Siblings Day Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit housed in a Manhattan office, the holiday was thought up by Claudia Evert, a paralegal raised in New York. In 1972, when she was 17, her father and older sister died in a car pileup in then-Soviet Estonia. Fourteen years later, her brother died from a concussion.

In 1996, working for the kind of the legal firm that operates in the Cayman Islands, she resolved to memorialize her sister’s birthday as a siblings’ holiday. Since 1997, she claims to have sent faxes to all 50 state governors, members of Congress and President Clinton. A movement first advocated by luminaries such as Mike Huckabee and Tommy Thompson’s offices continued on with Evert’s constant prodding.

She found a supportive Congresswoman in Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), who got Clinton’s office to sign a letter of support. Her petition for President Obama to issue a presidential proclamation still lacks a response.

A second wind came from proclamations signed by Republican governors elected in the 2010 wave. Yet Evert’s campaign is still far away from a presidential proclamation, its biggest national moment behind it, when Arianna Huffington dissed her in a 1997 column.

If you believe Google Trends, Siblings Day only became official on April 10, 2012. Despite Evert’s mailing list glitching up, the holiday trended on Twitter for the first time. Due to the ephemerality of Tweets, I can only say with some certainty the people who blew the holiday up were Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian, after they posted the holiday on their blogs. (And people say the Kardashian sisters are a net drain on society!)

Once a topic has gone viral once, it is easy to sustain it:

  • Consider a corporate staffer responsible for a social media account. To maximize brand exposure, she either needs to post content that bandwagons on a trending tag or restart a tag that trended in the past.
  • Consider a celebrity with social media accounts. It’s fun for them to goof around for a bit and give shout outs.
  • Consider the modern journalist. She needs to strike a balance between chasing shamelessly after trends like a corporate staffer, but also appear totally above it. Human interest issues on which there is no need to seem “above it” are easier to write.

A celebration of siblings simplifies virality even further. It is enough, at this stage of the holiday, to celebrate this day by posting a photo of you and your siblings, of which there are plenty.

With Mother’s or Father’s Day you have to worry about gifts and all that jazz. Siblings Day is light, fun, comes and goes in a blip.

Further evolution occurred in 2015: Facebook, in the U. S., prodded its customers on April 10th with an invitation to celebrate Siblings Day, which requires uploading photos with custom filters.

Now, any excuse for Facebook to suck information onto their servers is good for them. Their ploy is even more ingenious when you realize nobody fills out the “family” section of their Facebook profile anymore.

By promoting holiday-themed days like Siblings Day, Facebook acquires data much richer than what a profile blurb can provide. The mass of photos uploaded during Siblings Day allows future algorithms to not only identify your close family, but also their appearance, their clothing, their growth into adulthood. With those things in check, all their consumption habits likely follow.

B. National Puppy Day

National Puppy Day apparently took place on March 23rd, as Google helpfully reminds me when I search for it. There are no proclamations related to this day, no faxes sent to politicians’ staffers and no dispute over whether the subject is singular or plural.

The founding of this holiday is better documented; it is one of many holidays invented by Colleen Paige, one of those social media experts, for publicity purposes. If you go to the “holidays” section of her page, you will see she also invented National Dog Day, National Cat Day, National Black Dog Day and National Walk Your Pet Week.

Paige’s press kit for National Dog Day gives the fullest description of her vision. Her brand for that holiday circulates around three hashtags and a Facebook page with close to 120,000 subscribers. For a fee, a company can hire her as a consultant to maximize brand exposure when these holiday hashtags are supposed to trend again.

That is not to say that Paige’s animal holidays lack any sense of altruism: their stated missions are variations on the same theme, of preventing animal cruelty and encouraging adoption. That said, any animal shelter that wants to use the hashtags as part of a social media campaign is advised to clear hashtag rights with her.

Despite the more elaborate buildup, Puppy Day is not that different from Siblings Day. For the average consumer, both holidays require no more effort than finding an old photo of a sibling/dog and uploading it with the required tags.

Puppy Day is more beneficial toward journalists, since it is easier to clear rights for media of dogs compared to multiple media releases associated with media of multiple siblings. More generally, a Flickr search for “puppies” yielded more than 2.78 million photos compared to 330,000 for “siblings,” hence greater choice of content.

The holiday also has great growth potential — since the number of pets in China has gone from 0 in the 80s to more than 20 million now, Facebook should take note.

It took a decade for Paige’s campaigns to achieve their crowning disruption, leapfrogging past the political bureaucracy. The achievement was made on Oct. 29, 2015, when the White House Twitter page tweeted a joking post for National Cat Day. It received more than 3000 likes.

A few months later, President Obama’s official Twitter tweeted a cute photo for National Puppy Day 2016. It received more than 22,000 likes, and that Tweet’s reply chain includes images created for the National Puppy Day campaign in the first place.

C. The woman who disowned her holiday

When Mother’s Day was commemorated by states and Congress for the first time in the 1910s, it was a woman named Anna Jarvis who pushed it through. Her ideal was a holiday where children send hand-written letters to their mothers, thanking them for their voluntary labour.

She was grateful to Woodrow Wilson when he issued a presidential proclamation for Mother’s Day, in 1914. A decade later the love was lost. She despised the commercialisation of the holiday, the dependence of its celebrators on store-bought gifts. When the American War Mothers sold carnations to fundraise on the official Mother’s Day, she screamed at them and was arrested.

I don’t know if the women who created Siblings Day and Puppy Day will disown their holidays. When Siblings Day went viral in 2012, Evert seemed astounded:

The publicity that one gains from being a trending topic is enormous and part of the reason National Siblings Day went VIRAL! Yes- VIRAL!

With Paige, she understands the art of excitement when her products start to trend, but not overly excited:

What I feel they both understand, though, is that their holidays are not promotions of civic virtue. This was Jarvis’s mistake, if not also those of other activists and reformers around that turn of the century.

Evert’s reasons for promoting her holiday is deeply personal, Paige’s maybe a bit less so. Either way, their enthusiasm for celebration comes out of their personal experiences, their belief that siblings, puppies or black dogs are beings they value.

That message is easier to swallow for the rest of us. We would say these days we have our unique reasons for valuing siblings, puppies or black dogs. At a shallow level, we post photos and write nice prose to express these reasons, and others see them and feel empathetic.

At a higher level there is tension. We are all aware of restaurants, flower shops and card companies commercializing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Some of us critique this commercialization and try to celebrate beyond it.

In modern times, we are not so lucky. Imagine a medium that allows any industry to promote whatever tenuous ties they have to a holiday, and a separate industry that designs boutique holidays to supply the demand.

The problem is not that our lives will be dominated by a few awful holidays with names straight out of Infinite Jest. I can believe competition in the holidays market will weed out uninteresting holidays and prop up holidays with which many people can emphasize.

The problem would be the detachment of holidays from any notion of civic virtue, embracing a future where holidays come and go, blips in and blips out, promoting subjects and objects we can care about for a few hours of a single day.

But it will no longer be our duty to care about those things beyond the time they trend. It becomes corporate responsibility.