Today, on Crowded Nest Syndrome Day, one of 13,000 officially recognized national days, a Daily Beast investigation unearths where all these “official” days come from—and how you can get your very own.
For millions, today holds special personal meaning—birthday parties will be thrown, anniversaries celebrated with roses and candlelit dinners. But June 12, unbeknownst to many, is also Crowded Nest Syndrome Day, an officially recognized “awareness day” now marking its fifth anniversary.
“My husband let the kids move back home while I was on my first book tour,” says Kathleen Shaputis, the creator of Crowded Nest Syndrome Day, “so it stood to reason that I’d put CNS Day on his birthday.” Having published her second book, The Crowded Nest Syndrome: Surviving the Return of Adult Children, in 2003, Shaputis decided to make her vernacular on the trend the definitive one. To do so, she filled out a form in the back of a book called the Chase's Calendar of Events, mailed it in, got approved, and voila! She had created her own National Day. In terms of official recognition, that simple act put it on the same footing as the weighty-sounding World Environment Day, which takes place on June 5, one week before Crowded Nest Syndrome Day.
The mere fact that any citizen can get such a day officially recognized can be attributed to a twist of fate. Through most of the 1950s, the process of getting a day recognized operated pretty much as one might expect: Legislation marking the day had to slog its way through Congress, and keeping up with the onslaught of requests for new days like National Popcorn Farmers Day (September 12) and National Mother-in-Law Day (April 19) was typically too onerous to bother with.
To ease the process, two Michigan brothers, William and Harrison Chase, decided to create their own system. In 1957, the first annual Chase's Calendar of Events, a 32-page booklet with 364 entries, was published—it sold 2,000 copies. Congress got wind of the project, deemed it a smashing success, and invited the brothers to Washington to speak about their work. Within the year, the day-naming process had, a little mysteriously, been passed off entirely to the Chases.
Now owned and operated by the McGraw-Hill Companies, The Chase's Calendar of Events remains the single, definitive gatekeeper of national days. It’s now a 752-page tome, covering over 13,000 events (5,000 of which are, impressively, all registered celebrity birthdays). Approximately 100 applications are received each year. From those, as many as 70 percent of submissions turn into actual, documented official days.
“We try to be equal opportunity with big companies and the little guys in terms of how we review,” says Holly McGuire, Chase’s genial editor in chief, who notes that this year marks the debut of both International Fanny Pack Day (March 13) and the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day (February 5). “Our goal really is to record what people are celebrating.”
Indeed, for obsessive pop-culture geeks, the Chase's Calendar is a fantastic reference for year-by-year trends—in 2001, for instance, Secretary’s Day suddenly changed to Administrative Assistant’s Day. And recently, days created by crafting groups have been getting a lot of traction, perhaps due to the rise in crafting’s popularity since the economic downturn. McGuire says she therefore took a special interest in days connecting to that movement, even seeking out avid celebrators of one Japanese Origami Day that she felt might make for a promising addition.
The submission process is deceptively simple: Supplemental material—anything from a local City Hall press release to a picture of you and your family doing a commemorative dance—can help your chances of getting your day recognized. But even these aren’t mandatory. In order to play the day-naming game, interested parties need only fill out a form (available in the back of the book or online) showing that there’s a documented interest in your day, and a plan for observing the event in question.
This can mean that something like Hagfish Day (October 20 and new to the scene, officially starting in 2010) would be immediately certified; the sponsors, a sea-life appreciation group, have apparently been celebrating it for some time. By contrast, each year there are reputable advocacy groups that don’t make the cut. Most typically, McGuire notes, it’s because they haven’t yet taken the trouble to promote their holiday on their Web sites.
To ensure a date stays in the book, it needs to be renewed every year; those that aren’t undergo a reassessment process. “It’s not always a question of forgetting or laziness,” says McGuire. “If you start a day that’s particularly catchy, the publicity can actually get overwhelming. You wouldn’t think it, but some people actually ask to be taken out.” McGuire is quick to emphasize that she and her editors aren’t in the business of ascribing value to the days they approve. Nor can they call any days “holidays” (instead, they’re known as “special days.”)
But she also notes that because Congress has yet to come up with a better approach for getting days officially recognized—there are only 11 “federal holidays;” 52 other days fall under “federally observances” or “holidays observed nationwide”—her organization remains the default arbiter. Which poses an interesting problem: In recent years, health-related advocacy groups have proliferated exponentially. “We now have over 125 nonprofit-sponsored health-oriented days, weeks, and months to celebrate each year,” she says. “That means there’s overlap 365 days of the year. In terms of raising awareness, not to mention funding, that’s a lot of competition.”
With 13,000 days to choose from, asking McGuire to name her favorite proved an impossible request, especially given the intimate, maternal familiarity she seems to have with the specifics of each. She did offer one she has an affection for: “Well, there’s Mario Day. That’s on March 10. It was started by this guy, Mario. He’s a nice guy. There’s just something about the simplicity of that.”
Sara Reistad-Long is a New York-based writer. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Esquire, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.