Sweet Nothing

Cleveland, Ohio sits proudly on the south shore of Lake Erie but has long been considered one of the least desirable locales in America. Shuttered steel mills, miserable weather, and a floundering economy don’t paint a pretty picture. But Cleveland does have an upside. It hosts the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hundreds of thousands flock to its international film festival. And the Cleveland Browns – long the doormat of professional football – just completed their first winning season in over a decade.  Alas, music, movies, and sports don’t erase mistakes… not when a city lays claim to a “holiday” called Sweetest Day.

Tape a big round target to my computer monitor and hand me a bazooka, because I’m about to blow the Sweetest Day bullseye into bits you’ll need a microscope to see.  The redeeming qualities of this celebration amount to little more than sweet nothings. I mean, how bad is it when your holiday is not only labeled a “Hallmark”, but popular opinion says it’s the worst of that lot?

A Hallmark Holiday.  By definition it’s a celebration with no more substance than a push to buy a greeting card.  Boss’s Day (Oct. 16th).  Administrative Professionals’ Day (April 27th).  Teacher Appreciation Day (May 3rd).  There’s even Clergy Appreciation Day (Oct. 10th).  Sweetest Day lands at the very bottom of this feathery-light pile.  Please, can we just leave it buried there?

“Hallmark Holiday”

It wasn’t always this way with Sweetest Day.  Wait… YES IT WAS.  Did you know we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the original Sweetest Day last Saturday?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The better question I should ask: Do you even know why we celebrate Sweetest Day?

No, I don’t celebrate Sweetest Day, but many of you in the “Great Lakes Region” do (eight midwestern U.S. states plus the Canadian province of Ontario).  For the rest of us, here’s the debatably sincere back story.  In 1921, twelve Cleveland candy company executives pooled their surplus product and gave away 20,000 boxes of candy “to newsboys, orphans, old folks, and the poor”, and literally manufactured a holiday in the process.  In the hundred years since, Sweetest Day has morphed from free candy for strangers to “… a day to share romantic deeds or expressions and acts of charity or kindness.”  With all due respect Cleveland, why do we need a “holiday” for romance or charity?

This is all your fault, Cleveland

When I first learned about Sweetest Day all I could come up with was Valentine’s Day 2.0.  I mean, how convenient, right?  We have the big day of romance in February so why not a little one (a really little one) in October?  Defenders of Sweetest Day say the two celebrations aren’t anything alike.  I agree.  Valentine’s Day was a Christian feast day designated over 2,500 years ago and celebrated throughout the world today.  Sweetest Day was a gimmick designed to sell candy (and cards) exactly 100 years ago and celebrated throughout… the Great Lakes Region.

Several failed attempts were made over the years to solidify Sweetest Day on the October calendar.  In 1922 the name was changed to “Candy Day” to see if it would generate more buzz (nope).  In 1927 they tried to make it Sweetest Week (nope again).  And in 1937, to make it more nationally accepted, they tried to advertise Sweetest Day on par with Mother’s, Father’s, and Valentine’s Day (this effort sponsored by, drum roll please… the National Confectioner’s Association).

None of this spinning of wheels stood in Hallmark’s way.  The greeting card company produces over 150 designs for Sweetest Day.  American Greetings joined the card party to make another 180.  Can you blame them when so many Great Lakes Region people are willing to buy?

All of my bazooka-blasting brings me to a fitting conclusion concerning Wikipedia (where I often find reference material).  Every Wikipedia article gets a rating of “quality” and another of “importance”, using a scale not so different from the one you had in grade school.  Wikipedia’s article on Sweetest Day – published seventeen years ago – gets a quality rating of, uh… has not yet received, and an importance rating of, uh… has not yet received.  In other words, nobody at Wikipedia cares enough to even rate the article.

Here’s an idea.  How about we just delete the Wikipedia article? (as one employee proposed two years after it was published).  For that matter, how about we just delete Sweetest Day?  I have my bazooka at the ready.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

American Hollow-Day

Last Friday was a hugely important day in America! It was so hugely important I couldn’t sleep the night before! I got up twice hoping it was already morning. I stared at the numbers on the bedside clock, willing them to go faster. Finally, when dawn’s early light beckoned, I leaped out of bed like a child on Christmas, dashed down the hall, and stepped into the laundry room. I was brimming with anticipation!  And there, standing patiently in the corner, tightly furled since last Independence Day: our American flag.  Quick as a mouse, I ran her out to the front deck and hoisted her in the most prominent place I could find. Then I took a few steps back and placed my hand over my heart.  To no one in particular I exclaimed, “Happy Flag Day!”

Poor Flag Day – she’s an underappreciated holiday.  She comes and goes with no more fanfare than pre-printed words on the June 14 square of a wall calendar.  She doesn’t even rate a Hallmark card.  She yearns to be a real holiday like those ten federal ones.   She wants to believe the events of my first paragraph actually happened.  But let’s get real.  In our house, the only excitement last Friday was knowing the weekend was at hand.  I slept without interruption the night before.  I didn’t get up at dawn.  And our flag remained furled in the corner of the laundry room, knowing its only chance to see the light of day would be July 4th.

Which is all to say, I’m missing the point of Flag Day, at least in this country.  Wikipedia devotes two tiny paragraphs to its Flag Day article, beginning with the words, “A flag day is a flag-related holiday…” (promising start, no?)  But at least they go on to say, “…a day designated for flying a certain flag…”, and, “…a day set aside to celebrate a nation’s adoption of its flag.”  Here in America, we do neither on June 14th.

Apologies to Troy, NY (whose Flag Day parades draws 50,000+ spectators) and Waubeka, WI (which claims to be the founding city of Flag Day and also has a parade).  The residents of those towns surely had a “banner celebration” last Friday.  The employees of the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia probably took the day off as well.  But for the rest of us, it was just another June 14th, conspicuously calendared halfway between big-boy holidays “Memorial” and “Independence”.

Don’t get me wrong – I think America’s flag is supremely appreciated.  She flies above any government facility, sports stadium, or other big-time gathering in our country, and she always gets the highest position on the pole (except you, Texas).  She shows up on a billion first-class postage stamps.  She’s decorates the top of Mt. Everest and the moon.  And on Independence Day, she’ll be raised more times than any other day.  Which makes Flag Day seem, well, redundant, doesn’t it?

         

If we’re to truly embrace this overlooked holiday in America, I suggest the following from now on: 1) Your June 14th breakfast must contain some combination of red, white, and blue foods (i.e. cherries, blueberries, Pop-Tarts in a pinch).  2) Your June 14th outfit must contain the colors of the American flag (or at least one of those classy little lapel pins).  3) Unfurl and raise the flag at your house or place of business – and won’t it be cool to add “unfurl” to your vocabulary for a day?  4) Hail a cab or a friend, so you can say you “flagged them down”.  Actually, disregard that last one.

I’ll grant one exception to my efforts to boost the significance of Flag Day.  If you happen to live on a flag lot, you don’t have to do anything at all.  You’re celebrating by default!  But you might consider coloring your property appropriately.  Wouldn’t that cause a stir in the plane flying overhead?

Look forward, not back.  Independence Day is only two weeks from today.  Dust off your flag after all.