By Joel Stein
October 29, 2015
IDEAS
Joel Stein is the author In Defense of Elitism: Why I'm Better Than You and You're Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book. Stein was a staff writer for TIME from 1997 to 2017, writing a regular humor column and more than a dozen cover stories

Social media has brought us many improvements, like keeping our spouses in line by letting them know that at any moment we can flirt with every one of our exes. But eternal socializing leads us to be interested only in news that serves as an excuse to talk about ourselves, which is hard with Syria but easy with National Nachos Day. The popularity of ridiculous holidays is growing as people earnestly post selfies while eating caramel popcorn on National Caramel Popcorn Day or lying in the hospital on National Trampoline Day.

The news that people are using the news as an excuse to talk about themselves seemed like a great excuse to talk about myself. To do that more formally and more annually, I decided to try to establish National Magazine Humor Columnist Day, on which people could post stories about how I, and maybe Dan Wuori at the cycling magazine Velo–but really just me–affect their lives.

In 1996 the House of Representatives passed a rule to stop members from spending all their time creating national days, so now they just propose them, skip the vote and declare them anyway. I contacted Jason Chaffetz, who, as the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is in charge of federal holidays. To my delight, he said he’d help and sent an email detailing his efforts later that same day. “I thought Aug. 5 would be a great day for your organization, but obviously it’s already taken,” he wrote, attaching a picture of oysters, which is how I found out it was National Oyster Day. A few hours later, he wrote that he was considering the first Friday in June: “We would have done it, but National Doughnut Day was already in place.” I was starting to doubt Chaffetz’s commitment to this cause.

Luckily, I discovered that as with so much in our increasingly decentralized society, new holidays are created not by the government but by four people who work at a company in North Dakota that transfers VHS home movies to digital files. Three years ago, Zoovio co-owner Marlo Anderson created a National Day Calendar website, which feeds crucial fake-holiday information to Good Morning America, Fox & Friends, Ellen, Conan and a lot of local radio shows. Anderson gets more than 50 online applications a day and charges winning applicants $1,500, and another $2,500 plus expenses if they want him to attend official proclamation events, which is something I did not want even if Wuori put up $2,499.

Anderson told me National Magazine Humor Columnist Day had a chance if I broadened it to Humor Day. Unwilling to dilute my vision, I came up with a better way to increase my odds. I asked him if I could serve as a guest judge to decide the fate of proposed holidays. Anderson, who had already talked to me for 30 minutes and clearly had VHS tapes to digitize, agreed. I Skyped into the meeting with Zoovio employees Amy LaVallie, Nick Ressler and Alice Anderson, who is Marlo’s wife. Marlo, who had culled the pile to 100 from more than 300, did not serve as a final judge, and Nick had to take some work calls, so a lot of the time I had one-third of the power to declare our nation’s fake holidays.

I thought I would be the toughest vote, but Amy and Alice were brutal. I was shocked at how quickly they shot down Bring Your Cat to Work Day. “You have to remember that people actually celebrate these days. They get cappuccinos or fritters,” said Amy. “We don’t want people bringing cats to work.” They also passed on a day celebrating unicorns despite the fact that Amy has a unicorn tattoo. I was both impressed that Amy was able to set aside her personal prejudices and nervous that our national holidays were being decided by someone with a unicorn tattoo.

Oddly, it’s much easier to get a week or a month for your cause, since no one really cares about them. We awarded months for all kinds of good causes, such as community bike shops and prosthetics for amputees. But we also created National Grandkid Day, Retina Day and Truck Drivers Day. I made a couple of powerful speeches, pushing through an April 16 holiday for accountants and a National Crazy Cat Lady Day on the day after National Cat Day. By the end of our hard work, we had successfully caused people’s VHS tapes to be digitized 90 minutes later than they should have been.

Before I un-Skyped, I asked the other judges what my odds were if I officially submitted National Magazine Humor Columnist Day. “I think it would make the yes pile,” said Alice, clearly implying it would make the yes pile. So after my Kickstarter page raises $1,500 because my TIME expense account isn’t what it used to be, you can spend every July 23 posting a selfie reading this column. And we will both be content that we’ve done our national duty to inform society to look at us again.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the November 09, 2015 issue of TIME.

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