The World Keeps Turning: Holiday inflation

  • Allen Woods FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/13/2022 6:21:42 PM
Modified: 5/13/2022 6:20:05 PM

I realize that inflation insolently stares at us with every purchase, including a $4.40 gallon of gas as Shell posts profits of $9 billion for the first quarter of 2022. It’s all gone haywire for consumers, but not for corporations. And I’m sure there is even more in the future, including the holiday season (only 225 days till Christmas).

But the inflation I’m talking about is the number of holidays we can celebrate. A few years back, I noticed Cinco de Mayo ads for a few weeks and realized I knew next to nothing about the holiday, publicized with a lime in the longneck.

I found that May 5 is a minor holiday in Mexico, celebrated primarily in the south where in 1861, an outnumbered Mexican army won a temporary victory over ... the French! Napoleon wasn’t happy, and a larger force took Mexico City in 1862 and ruled for about four years until he decided there were other, more important countries to conquer.

From the 1940s through the 70s, the U.S. “Good Neighbor policy” promoted strong ties with Mexico and encouraged celebrations of Mexican American culture in the U.S., including Cinco de Mayo. But it wasn’t long before the beer and liquor industry realized that they could expand into American barrios by promoting a fun, spring, drinking holiday. After one celebration turned into a drunken riot, Hispanic leaders charged the alcohol companies with “pushing a legal drug” into their communities.

I knew that some other holidays had been largely created by industries, so I took a look at the National Day calendar (https://nationaldaycalendar.com/) and was stunned at the inflation of celebrations. Just in the first two weeks of January, there is a national day listed for Bloody Marys, cream puffs, chocolate covered cherries, spaghetti, keto diets, whipped cream, bobbleheads, apricots and static electricity. There are at least 500 national days for celebrating one thing or another. 

But right after Cinco de Mayo came Mother’s Day and I found it to be a fully cautionary tale in the “beware what you wish for” mode. Ann Jarvis, a West Virginia native, helped people before and after the Civil War, first teaching new mothers how to care for children. After the war bitterly divided the state, she sponsored “reconciliation days” for mothers to meet with former soldiers from both sides to promote reunification.

Her daughter Anna admired her efforts and wanted to establish a day in which the sacrifices of mothers were recognized. After one celebration in West Virginia in 1908, she began a letter-writing campaign to push for national recognition, noting that women’s accomplishments were barely celebrated compared to men’s. As the suffrage movement gained strength, Woodrow Wilson established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and it’s been with us ever since.

A success story, right? When the greeting card companies, candy makers, and flower companies began cashing in on what Anna Jarvis had seen as a day for families to celebrate together, or to visit a matriarch after going to church, she soon began to speak out against the “commercialization” of Mother’s Day. She began to denounce the “profiteers” and urged people not to buy flowers, although she’d previously supported the idea, and turned against the card makers and candy companies as well.

Her opposition to the “commercialized” holiday was so strong that she spent her personal savings on lawsuits against organizations using the term “Mother’s Day.” She died in 1948, unmarried and childless, with little money and little success in stopping the commercial tide that drowned her dream of a simple, family day of thanks and gratitude.

Today, we can choose to celebrate nearly every item and occasion. A few days after Mother’s Day, we are encouraged to forget the diets on National Eat What You Want Day (May 11) following National Coconut Cream Pie Day (May 8) and coincidentally celebrated on the same day as National Have a Coke Day (I wonder who suggested that?). And after all that eating, I may try to write a limerick for National Limerick Day (May 12) even though I’ve never had much luck with rhyming at the right time. But if I did write one that bordered on the indecent, May 14, National Decency Day, is right around the corner. Actually, it promotes a goal I fully support: celebrating “the basic standard of civility that every American deserves. Decency is a non-partisan grassroots movement launched to inspire decency in everyday life — in both conversations and actions.”

Allen Woods is a freelance writer, author of the Revolutionary-era crime novel “The Sword and Scabbard,” and Greenfield resident. His column appears regularly on a Saturday. Comments are welcome here or at awoods2846@gmail.com. 


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