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Happy National North Carolina Day: A holiday that somebody just made up
We looked into the origins of the day when, I don't know, everybody in this country is supposed to celebrate a single state for some reason.
Folks, I am really, really sorry that I let National North Carolina Day pass by without getting you anything. But that’s only because I had never heard of it before yesterday.
Now, look. I pride myself on knowing a great many thing about this state. I did recognize every state symbol on the image in that tweet. I did a whole podcast episode about state symbols! Here is what I discovered about them:
Elementary school students learn about North Carolina history in fourth grade, and most of the proposals for new state symbols come from their class projects.
One state senator voted against every single one of them. Humbug.
We have a state song: “The Old North State.” Many songs, as the kids say, slap. This song does not slap.
The official state bird was once the Carolina Chickadee. That bird is also known as the tomtit. People worried that North Carolina would be known as the Tomtit State. Newspaper editors clowned the General Assembly so hard that they came together to repeal that act TEN DAYS AFTER THEY PASSED IT.
Folks, I can go on. There’s a whole list of state symbols here. Knock yourself out.
But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because there’s apparently a National North Carolina Day that falls on September 28th and I, a media elite, was somehow never informed of this. And yet, everybody else knew!
I have but one simple question here: Says who? The state treasurer’s office, an official policy-making arm of the North Carolina government, gave me an answer: It was something they just found on Google.
Okay, Twitter account for the Office of State Treasurer Dale Folwell. You wanna dance? Let’s dance.
North Carolina Day, Before It Was Cool
In the early 20th century, a proposal was made in the public schools of North Carolina to earmark a day that could “awaken a proper pride in the history of the state.”
The idea behind the recommendation was also to reduce illiteracy in North Carolina by popularizing the system of free public education. Illiteracy became common due to a lack of interest in levying taxes to improve education after the Civil War. Additionally, state officials also formed a Literary and Historical Association in North Carolina to promote cultural interests among the disassociated population.
I was skeptical, but it turns out this part is true. In 1901, the Literary and Historical Association held the first North Carolina Day at schools across the state. The first program was heavy on the Lost Colony and Virginia Dare and Sir Walter Raleigh. “On the soil of North Carolina, he built a monument of enduring fame,” reads part of the program. It, uh, continues: “For here he planted the new home of the Anglo-Saxon race.”
Overall though, there’s a lot of rah-rah Carolina in here, and the idea proved so popular that North Carolina Day continued for another 25 years or so. Each year focused on a different part of the state or its history. Early North Carolina Days highlighted the coast and sounds: 1902 was about the Albemarle, 1903 the Cape Fear region, and 1904 the Pamlico. It went on to focus on other areas, along with poets, Germans, and the Scots-Irish. In 1912, the day was dedicated to the memory of Charles B. Aycock, the governor who legitimately breathed life into North Carolina’s public education system, and a man who was also legitimately a gigantic racist.
In 1930, North Carolina Day was observed at the state fair, and in 1933 at the World’s Fair in Chicago. After that, it seems to be sort of a thing that people celebrated whenever they damn pleased, every once in a while. Technically, North Carolina Day had been put into state law in 1901, but at some point it disappeared, only to reappear in a law passed in 1981. This time, it lasted another 16 years before it was declared obsolete and eliminated by lawmakers in 1997. Among the other “special days” whose observances were eliminated: Temperance or Law and Order Day, Arbor Day, and the birthdays of George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. There wasn’t so much of a mention of it in the newspapers.
So yes, North Carolina Day was a real thing. One thing that wasn’t real: It was never actually observed on September 28th. The original law placed it on October 12th, but after two years, the state superintendent moved it to the last Friday of the week before Christmas. It seems to have bounced back and forth between December and October, but it was never in September, since many early 20th-century schools weren’t in session that early.
Every Day Is A Holiday! Whee!
So, okay, North Carolina Day is legit. But where the hell did National North Carolina Day come from? Well, as far as I can tell, it came from something calling itself the National Day Calendar®. Beginning on Independence Day 2017, that website began celebrating each state in the order they entered the union. They started in Delaware. They ended in Hawaii. North Carolina was 12th, so its day just happened to fall on September 28th. That’s it. That’s the special reason. “Many states have their own state celebrations, and National Day Calendar’s observances in no way replace them,” says the website, which again, just arbitrarily took a day and made it National North Carolina Day.
(At this point, I should point out that the same site says a lot of holidays fall on September 28. They include: National Strawberry Cream Pie Day, National Good Neighbor Day, National Drink Beer Day, National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, and World Dense Breast Day.)
Also, just for fun, I went over to Google Trends to see how many Americans are curious about National North Carolina Day. After all, it’s a national holiday, which means people across this great country are searching for—actually no, we’re the only ones who care.
Most of these national whatever days can be traced back to one source. Back in 2018, The Atlantic took a deep look into the mysterious origins of National Avocado Day, which eventually led them to the culprit: The National Day Calendar. That company is based in North Dakota, employs 15 or so people, and its CEO swears that it’s not a pay-for-play operation. She also says that unlike National Today, which is nakedly a marketing ploy and is really just copying them, the National Day Calendar does this because they care. From The Atlantic:
It does seem that these are boom times for national days. As I finish writing this, National Tell a Joke Day is now trending above any other topic. [CEO Amy] LaVallie thinks this is because of—not despite—the intensity and stakes of the news. People want the opportunity to talk about fun and barely consequential things. As everything happening online collapses into a single social-media feed, people feel they need a reason to talk about something other than what’s clearly more important news. National days offer an excuse—an invitation, even—to transgress. “In this day and age, when everything is so serious, it’s nice to have a little fun,” LaVallie says, “even if it’s just celebrating a cookie day.” (There are many days for different types of cookies.)
It is a little fun! But it’s also big business. I mean, you might feel the urge to go out and buy some dough if you knew National Homemade Cookies Day was coming up. Which it is. On October 1.
Point being, a few folks in a room somewhere in North Dakota declared September 28th to be a national holiday that celebrates a single state (Federalism! It’s not dead!). And what did we do? We just went with it. We just said “Ah yes! A day where we all pause to recognize Strawberry Cream Pies, North Carolina, and dense breasts!” without even thinking twice.
Maybe I’m being a killjoy here. Maybe I should just celebrate National North Carolina Day in whatever way it is you’re supposed to celebrate it. Fine. But at least I’m not alone in using this moment to investigate our unique place in this country.
All of this would have been moot if only we’d had the guts to be the Tomtit State.