Can you remember (without looking or guessing) what you did for dinner on October 12? No? How about on Thanksgiving? That’s my twenty-word argument in favor of holidays. Without holidays, the past dissolves into a smooth and pleasant blur. With them, our feeble brains hold onto at least a few moments each year.
But what if you’re not thrilled with your culturally pre-approved holiday options? Roll up your sleeves and start your own. It’s not easy, but it can be done. A few days from now, my family will be celebrating our ninth International Pizza Day. I am of course super busy getting ready, but for your sake I will sit long enough to list a few essential tips on How to Start Your Own Holiday.
1. Don’t be silly: no one starts a holiday. Do you think Christians really started the whole tree-and-lights thing in December—to celebrate the mid-summer birthday of Jesus? And what do bunnies and eggs have to do with His rebirth? So go ahead and Co-opt someone else’s holiday or event. And then pretend it was yours all along. International Pizza Day was mentioned in the back of a children’s book—just a date, really, with no explanation. But we ran with it.
2. Pick an organizing theme with universal appeal. Who can resist a cute little magical baby born in a barn? Who doesn’t hope that the new year is better than the old one? Who doesn’t love pizza in some form or other? By the same token, we’re working on a new holiday called School’s Out. Most people—including people like me, who know better—get excited about the last day of school. At my house we celebrate with a meal of French fries, nachos, margaritas (for some of us), and—this is the crucial bit—no vegetables or fruit. Nothing healthy whatsoever, because, hey, SCHOOL’S OUT! Get it?
3. OK, School’s Out has a ways to go, holiday-wise, but we’ve already taken a crucial step: Establish traditional foods. Something you crave but don’t eat often. Latkes. King Cake. Eggnog. For International Pizza Day, we had to overcome the fact that pizza is, er, relatively common. So we make it from scratch, with dozens of topping choices, and a volatile clay-tile/mozzarella grease combination that invariably threatens to set off the smoke alarm. We may eat pizza twice a week in normal life, but only on IPD do we eat charred sourdough pizza with spinach, gorgonzola, and caramelized onions.
4. Does that sound like a lot of work? Exactly. This is the real secret of starting a holiday: Make sure your holiday is a pain in the ass. Here are some examples of holidays with a requisite pain-in-the-ass level: The one where, for a whole month, you don’t eat while the sun is shining. The one where you have to buy presents for everyone, cut down a tree, prop the tree up in your house, and cover it with decorations. The one where you have to dispose of all the yeast-friendly food in your house, change all your plates and silverware, and for a week eat nothing containing yeast, grains, or beans. A true holiday shouldn’t be just something to look forward to; it should also be something to dread. It should loom in the distance like a storm that promises to leave in its wake both indelible memories and a big mess. One year, the number of guests (and therefore pizza crusts to make in advance) having grown truly worrisome, my husband suggested we order in. If I’d agreed, International Pizza Day would have expired right then. As it is, I am exhausted from making 64 crusts, and IPD lives on.
5. “Holiday” comes from “Holy Day,” goddammit. Take your holiday seriously, or no one else will. In the beginning, you have to fake it, but with time and conviction you can get your parents to plan their work schedules around driving eight hours just to eat a half-burned pizza that they had to make themselves. Prepare a pained and puzzled look in case a friend makes alternate plans on the weekend of your new holiday. Practice saying, “But it’s [Your Holiday]!” the way an Irish matriarch might say, “But it’s Saint Patrick’s Day!” When a teenage child begs to volunteer at a hospital that morning, shake your head slowly and say, “I don’t know, honey. It’s [Your Holiday]. How long will it take?”
6. Spread the word. Each of my children has had to do a second-grade project on a family tradition. The whole point of the project is pluralism: “Savita, dear, tell us a little something about your family’s tradition.” That sort of thing. Even so, and even though my children love International Pizza Day, I have not been able to convince a single one of them to feature homemade pizza and attendant toppings on their poster board display. “No, mom,” they say, “it has to be a real holiday.” In other words, a holiday celebrated outside their own home.
In that spirit, and for the sake of the children, permit me to suggest that on February 9 (or the nearest Saturday), you throw a party to celebrate the internationally beloved, creative, comforting, party-positive miracle that is pizza. You can even pretend it was your idea all along.