National Waffle Day … but why? On the origin of food holidays

Whether with maple syrup or strawberries, prepare to top off that golden-brown, leavened batter with something delicious – it’s National Waffle Day. (Aaron Rezny/the food passionates/Corbis)

Fire up your griddle, it’s National Waffle Day!

Or … don’t. If waffles aren’t your thing, gear up to throw one back on Tuesday, which is National Whiskey Sour Day.

And if that isn't what you were looking for, don’t worry: Wednesday is National Cherry Popsicle Day.

Our calendars are bursting with calls for culinary celebrations these days and social media trending topics and news stories clamor to let us know it’s “National [fill in the food here] Day.”

But it raises the question: Says who?

The more cynical observers might think that clever public relations professionals concocted most of these “holidays” to hawk their wares. And they’d be right.

But some days have less calculated origins and more than just a hashtag history, and there are pocket groups of food obsessives dedicated to preserving their cultural significance.

There are also groups logging and legitimizing new food holidays based on fan support (vs. corporate sponsorship), i.e. if enough people love it, it’s real.

So let’s take tour together to see why we’re celebrating and eating and drinking different things throughout the year.

A waffle vendor sells waffles near the Treasury building in Washington, circa 1885-1895. (Corbis)

Historical Origins

National Waffle Day, for instance, harkens back to August 24, 1869, when Cornelius Swartwout, of Troy, N.Y., received the first U.S. patent for the waffle iron.

Cornelius Swartwout, 1869. (uspto via Wikipedia)

The origin of waffles can be traced back much further to the Netherlands and Belgium in the Middle Ages (and precursors in Ancient Greece) but Swartwout revolutionized the device by connecting what had previously been two plates with a hinge, forming an iron that could sit atop a stove: voila the waffle iron was born.

National Beer Day celebrates the end of prohibition with the Cullen-Harrison Act, which went into effect on April 7, 1933.

A thirsty public lined up outside breweries in 20 states and Washington, DC on April 6, or “New Beer's Eve," counting down until midnight. They purchased 1.5 million barrels and April 7 has unofficially been National Beer Day ever since.

In 1938, the Salvation Army celebrated the first National Donut Day, which lands on the first Friday in June, to honor the female volunteers who handed out the treat to American soldiers in France during WWI.

Nowadays Entenmann's Bakery plays a role in carrying on that patriotic tradition.

Trade Groups

Erin Kathleen McCoy, head of the nonprofit State Symbols USA which is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of each state, admits it is difficult to trace most days to their roots and that they are often created by trade groups, i.e. “Big Food.”

“I’ve just come to the conclusion that anyone can declare a national food holiday,” McCoy told Yahoo News. “If it catches on and people start writing about it, then it becomes a tradition.”

RELATED: 10 Waffle Recipes for National Waffle Day

It is true that most people who dream up national food days just want to sell you more of it, and it’s easier than ever to invent a holiday thanks to social media, but there are some purists who crusade to elevate the commemorative food days that come with a meatier past.

“Chase's Calendar of Events,” like State Symbols USA, maintains a list of food holidays.

The annual reference book is widely considered an authority on the subject in part because of its standards; inclusion often requires a sponsor and actual popularity.

A Nacho Building contest was held for the National Nacho Day celebration at Hussong's Cantina located in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, November 4, 2010. (Al Powers/Retna Ltd./Corbis)

“I will tell you up front that there are a lot of ‘ghost’ food holidays out there. With the rise of Twitter, it’s pretty easy to say ‘today is Nacho Day’ and people re-tweet away,” Holly McGuire, the book’s editor, said in an interview with Yahoo News.

Their mission is to chronicle what people actually celebrate so if enough people decide to honor a National Nacho Day – which is November 6 in case you were wondering – it will go in the book.

“We didn’t really ask for that role but in the vacuum that’s out there, I think it’s helpful,” McGuire said.
But stay skeptical. Everyone is out to make a buck.

“The cynical people are right. Of course people create advocacy days,” she said. “What people term ‘marketing days’ have been around forever, longer than people think.”

In July 2014, the food magazine Bon Appétit took a firm stance against celebrating food holidays, calling them little more than P.R. stunts.

June Dairy Month started as National Milk Month in 1937 but started to promote the consumption of refrigerated dairy foods in general after the National Dairy Council got involved.

For instance, predictable trade groups are responsible for Fresh Florida Tomato’s Month (April), National Blueberry Month (June), and National Honey Month (September): the Florida Tomato Committee, the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Blueberries, and the National Honey Board.

The National Confectioners Association is behind National Candy Corn Day (October 30) and The National Mustard Museum sponsors National Mustard Day (August 1).

A Pi Day pie from Reilly's Bakery in Biddeford at Biddeford High School in Biddeford, ME on Friday, March 13, 2015. (Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

A day to celebrate the mathematical constant pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, which is usually rounded off to 3.14, lands on March 14 (or 3/14).

Though the American Pie Council, which is dedicated to increasing enjoyment and sales of pies, did not come up with Pi Day, they promote its celebrations.Each year, mathematicians chow down on the actual pie while celebrating their discipline.

Linda Hoskins, the council’s executive director, says they are responsible for creating another day exclusively for the desert.

“We originated the other National Pie Day on January 23. One, two three – easy as pie,” Hoskins told Yahoo News.

Mathematicians routinely email the council asking why they celebrate on the “wrong day” – to which she replies, “Two pie days are better than one.”

U.S. Government

U.S. politicians sometimes proclaim a particular food day to build support for American businesses.

For instance, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on March 14, 2009 officially recognizing Pi Day.

In August 2015, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to designate September 25, 2015 as National Lobster Day.

“National Lobster Day not only recognizes their still-growing popularity, but it also underscores the significant role that lobsters play in supporting the economies of coastal communities across the country,” U.S. Senators from Maine, Angus King and Susan Collins, said in a joint statement.

September 25, 2015 is National Lobster Day. (Tetra Images/Corbis)

President Ronald Reagan declared June 25, 1987 National Catfish Day to celebrate “the value of farm-raised catfish.”

Similarly, President Dwight Eisenhower approved National Walnut Day on May 17, 1958.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared July California Wild King Salmon Month, September California Wine Month, and January California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month.

Food Fans

People who love celebrating food holidays also get new ones to take flight. One person, in particular, has been responsible for more than his fair share.

Since 2007, John-Bryan Hopkins has run a popular blog that catalogues food holidays called Foodimentary, which now has more than 865,000 followers on Twitter.

“I was one of the very early people to be on Twitter,” he told Yahoo News. “In 2007, I was one of the top 100 people on Twitter in the world. Not that many people were on it.”

Hopkins claims that when he started there were only about 175 food holidays so he just filled in the rest of the calendar with his own creations: National Onion Ring Day (June 22), Cupcake Lover’s Day (June 13), National Cheese Lover’s Day (January 20) and many more.

It would have been reasonable to assume that Nabisco invented National Oreo Day (March 6) but Hopkins claims it is his creation.

The made-up days caught on like wildfire thanks to his early adoption of Twitter.

“Once you said it was a food holiday it became a really re-tweetable, shareable tidbit,” he said.

He fondly recalls the moment someone called him out for “just making up” National Tater Tot Day. But Hopkins asks if that even matters when tens of thousands of people tweet about and celebrate the day.

“I’ve quietly become this nobody who comes up creating these days they talk about on ‘The Today Show,’” he said. “It was really a social experiment to be honest with you.”

Nowadays, rather than the invention of a cooking appliance, a strange holiday's origin may very well be Instagram.

Waffle irons, like the one seen here from 1933, became widespread kitchen appliances in the 20th century. (Sasha/Getty Images)

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