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Episode 765: The Holiday Industrial Complex

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Episode 765: The Holiday Industrial Complex

Episode 765: The Holiday Industrial Complex

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ED CHAPUIS: Newsroom, this is Ed.

KENNY MALONE, HOST:

Hey, Ed. It's Kenny Malone from NPR. How's it going, man?

CHAPUIS: Good, Kenny, how are you?

MALONE: This guy is Ed Chapuis. He's the news director at Fox 40, a television station in Sacramento. But on this particular day, Ed was so much more than that. Ed was the key to unlocking a mystery. I had been desperately trying to solve.

Let's start with the facts here. On June 18, 2015, you guys ran a segment.

CHAPUIS: Yeah.

MALONE: Do you remember this segment at all?

CHAPUIS: I do not. But I clicked the link. I followed it, and I watched it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX 40 BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR #1: ...With Mae. She's going to be telling us about some great eats.

MAE FESAI: About another big stinking deal, guys.

CHAPUIS: So it was a wonderful, lively segment with our morning anchor, Mae Fesai.

MALONE: Yeah.

CHAPUIS: And a young lady from Raley's Supermarket.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX 40 BROADCAST)

FESAI: Joining us this morning, Patty Mastracco with Raley's Something Extra. Patty...

MALONE: And in front of Mae and Patty is a table just covered in tarts and cakes and cheeses and wine.

CHAPUIS: Yes. And as a matter of fact, the notes describe it as decadent food.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX 40 BROADCAST)

FESAI: Do you know what today is, June 18? It's Nationals Splurge Day. Need I say more?

MALONE: Yeah, so much more - National Splurge Day? This drives me insane because it feels like we are suddenly swimming in bizarro holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR #2: Tomorrow is National Puppy Day.

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR #3: It's National Pancake Day.

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR #4: Potato Chip Day.

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR #5: Ice Cream Day.

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR #6: Watermelon...

MALONE: It just seems like someone is inventing holidays to try and sell us a bunch of stuff. And I wanted to get to the bottom of this. So I came up with a plan. I figured if I could unspool the events that landed one of these questionable holidays on television, if I could follow it back to its origins, then just maybe I could understand what was powering this holiday machine. And this is why I wound up on the phone with Ed Chapuis.

CHAPUIS: Sure, I went back...

MALONE: Trying to figure out how National Splurge Day somehow wound up on Fox 40 in Sacramento.

CHAPUIS: And it's funny. I was able to sort of follow and backtrack from our calendar how we found it.

MALONE: Oh, really?

CHAPUIS: Yep. I have done your sleuthing for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MALONE: Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Kenny Malone. And joining me on this quest is Noel King.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today we take a journey to the center of the holiday industrial complex. It's a trip that takes us from TV news, to the halls of Congress, to a storage locker in Chicago.

MALONE: It's a story of power, PR and one woman actually trying to make the world a better place.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MALONE: All right, we are chasing National Splurge Day. And I will say, it was not hard to find coverage of this holiday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR #7: Today happens to be known as National Splurge Day, a day when you're supposed to treat yourself to something.

KING: Yeah, I love this one. It's a New York station that did a what-would-you-splurge-on segment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Buffalo wings.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You could have anything in the world - supermodels, jet around the world. You want buffalo wings.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I do want buffalo wings.

MALONE: But it was shockingly hard to get someone to talk to me about how National Splurge Day ended up on their TV station. The buffalo wings channel, they flat out declined to comment. A guy at another station, he told me no one is going to talk to you on the record about this.

KING: This is, like, real evasion.

MALONE: I felt like I was kicking stuff up.

KING: You must be on to something

MALONE: But then I finally found someone who would talk, our guy, Ed Chapuis, Fox 40, Sacramento.

CHAPUIS: I have to tell you, I've never heard of National Splurge Day. So it doesn't surprise me (unintelligible) that we did something about it.

MALONE: Ed has a five-and-a-half-hour morning show to fill. And he has no shame about National Splurge Day ending up on his air. But he too was curious how it got there. So he pulls up a log that has every segment his station has ever run. And he flips back to 2015, and there it is.

CHAPUIS: OK, I'm going to click on this. National Splurge Day, exclamation point.

MALONE: So there's a record of who pitched it. And it says - what does it say there?

CHAPUIS: So this is emails by a PR person. Saturday, June 18 is National Splurge Day. What - you're probably asking, what the heck is National Splurge Day.

MALONE: That - that is literally what I'm asking, yes.

CHAPUIS: Yeah. So it has the contact person. And her name is Kat Maudru.

MALONE: OK.

CHAPUIS: If you're wanting to backtrack.

MALONE: Yeah, yeah.

CHAPUIS: And it has her cellphone number in there.

MALONE: Oh, fantastic.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

KAT MAUDRU: Hello.

MALONE: Hey, is this Kat?

MAUDRU: It is.

KING: Kat Maudru is the first lead in our investigation. She's the PR person for Raley's, which is a grocery store chain in California and Nevada.

MALONE: Kat told me, yeah, I pitched National Splurge Day to Fox 40. It was a way to get the grocery store on TV. But she can't remember exactly where she got it from. She told me that she just Googles food holidays, and there are a crazy amount of them.

Do you keep a running list of these holidays?

MAUDRU: I do. I have a folder on my computer with the different holidays.

MALONE: And you - do you have it in front of you?

MAUDRU: Maybe.

MALONE: Could you open it and read me some?

MAUDRU: Let's see... La la la.

MALONE: She's got National Garlic Month.

KING: National Meatball Day.

MALONE: Even National Raisin Day.

MAUDRU: I will tell you right now that that is later on this month. And I have a taker. And I haven't gotten around to exactly what we're going to be talking about.

MALONE: Wait, wait, wait. So you already pitched National Raisin Day to a media outlet, and they said yes without knowing what you would do about it?

MAUDRU: Yes, and I imagine we can maybe do some trail mix. We could do some baking. We could throw it in salads, put it in...

KING: OK, so National Raisin Day is not the holiday we're after. But it ended up being a very helpful lead.

MALONE: Because - because after I hung up with Kat.

All right, bye.

MAUDRU: Bye-bye.

MALONE: We started poking around. And National Raisin Day is over 100 years old.

KING: Yeah, we found an article from 1910 complaining about how it was shameless promotion by raisin growers in the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.

MALONE: And this is the way some strange days are born. It's exactly what you would think. Money, plus corporate interests, plus maybe a good PR person - and sometimes, even the government is involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MALONE: In fact, the United States Congress used to be a holiday factory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I rise today to talk about National Golf Day.

KING: You'll hear these called commemorative periods.

MALONE: We're still going to call them holidays.

KING: At one point, Congress got a little out of hand with the passing of made-up holidays. The peak came in 1985 and '86. This is during the 99th Congress. During that time, 1 in every 3 laws was a commemorative day or week or month.

MALONE: That is to say, Congress passed 664 laws during that session; 227 of those were things like National Air Traffic Control Day, National Bowling Week and National Birds of Prey Month.

KING: Legislators were spending so much time announcing crazy holidays that finally, in '95, the House of Representatives said, enough. And they passed a rule forbidding the introduction of this stuff.

MALONE: We looked. And during the congressional holiday mania, there was no National Splurge Day passed.

KING: But we also learned that after the holiday crackdown, people still wanted a way to get their made-up special days legitimized. And they found one.

MALONE: It's drizzly. It's Chicago. It's cold.

I was here to visit Holly McGuire. If there were a VIP club for holidays, Holly is the bouncer. Holly great to meet you.

HOLLY MCGUIRE: Nice to meet you.

MALONE: Holly is the editor-in-chief of something called "Chase's Calendar of Events." We walk into her office, and she shows me the 2017 edition of the book.

MCGUIRE: It's very heavy. I haven't weighed it. It's 752 pages.

MALONE: Seven hundred and fifty-two pages of all kinds of holidays, everything from Easter Sunday to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Do you guys call yourself, like, the official keeper of holidays and special days?

MCGUIRE: Oh, we're a little shy about actually doing that.

MALONE: Because we're in the Midwest now?

MCGUIRE: (Laughter). That could be. That could be.

MALONE: But you are, right?

MCGUIRE: Yes, we try to be.

MALONE: "Chase's" is like the Oxford English Dictionary of holidays.

KING: Yeah, but "Chase's" didn't really mean to become that. This book started in 1957. Back then, it was a pamphlet to help keep track of holidays that change around from year to year. But eventually, "Chase's" started allowing submissions for special days, as they call them. And then, when Congress issued its holiday crackdown, the world seemed to turn to "Chase's."

MCGUIRE: Right, and people started submitting to us to kind of fill that void.

MALONE: And this is where the search for National Splurge Day gets interesting because it was in "Chase's," but it isn't anymore.

KING: What?

MALONE: Uh-huh. About a decade ago, the inventor apparently called "Chase's" or emailed or something and asked to have it pulled out. Holly doesn't know all of the details. But she says she can still help us. So she scoots over to her laptop. She pulls up this, like, list.

MCGUIRE: Which is huge. It's divided...

MALONE: It's basically every special day that's been in Chase's since 1995 - thousands and thousands of entries. And next to each one is the person who submitted it.

MCGUIRE: And I've organized it alphabetically. And I'm in the nationals.

MALONE: She's reading down the list. There's National S'mores Day.

MCGUIRE: National Soul Food Month, National Soy Foods Month.

MALONE: And then, there it is.

MCGUIRE: National Splurge Day.

MALONE: Do you want to just read the text that's accompanying this?

MCGUIRE: Today is the day to go out and do something extraordinarily indulgent - motto, have fun.

MALONE: And do - OK, and so there is a name attached with the creation of this - this particular day.

MCGUIRE: Right, yeah. Yeah, Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith.

MALONE: Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith.

KING: National Splurge Day was not invented by a chamber of commerce. It was not passed during the congressional holiday boom. It was invented, and then rescinded, by a woman named Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith.

MALONE: And we had some questions for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MALONE: Coming up, the last stop on our journey.

KING: We meet the maker of National Splurge Day, and it's not what we expected.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: Our National Splurge Day quest has taken us from a TV station in Sacramento to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to the holiday gatekeeper in Chicago and now...

MALONE: Chicago again, total coincidence - but, yep, that's where we're headed.

All right, I'm, like, a mile away. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm on my way to meet this woman. It's kind of an old downtown.

Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith lives in an apartment building in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. And when I get there, she's already outside waiting for me and very concerned about my lack of rain apparel.

ADRIENNE SIOUX KOOPERSMITH: Do you need (unintelligible)?

MALONE: No, no, I'm OK.

KOOPERSMITH: Is that all you brought?

MALONE: Adrienne's in her 60s. She has long brown hair that she wears in braids. She's very proudly a Leo. She used to be a secretary and did some freelance public relations work.

Do you want me to take my shoes off?

So we settle in. We eat some cheesecake. And she tells me the real story behind National Splurge Day is this. It was the 1990s. It was tax season. And she was bummed. And she thought, what is the silver lining here?

KOOPERSMITH: So you figure you're going to have your tax return back within two months and three days, OK? You're going to have time to think about the fact that you want to splurge on something. OK, God bless you. That's my cat. My cat just sneezed. I always say God bless her because she's a little - she's a darling.

MALONE: Adrienne decided that two months and three days after Tax Day, that needs to be National Splurge Day. So she wrote it up, submitted it to "Chase's Calendar of Events," and it was a hit.

KING: The thing is, National Splurge Day, that is just the beginning of it.

MALONE: Adrienne, how many holidays have you - have you created?

KOOPERSMITH: Nineteen hundred that are legally written down. But there's more.

(LAUGHTER)

KOOPERSMITH: Come on. Follow me.

MALONE: Yeah, OK.

Adrienne took me a few blocks away to a place called Uncle Bob's Storage (ph).

KOOPERSMITH: All right.

MALONE: She walks up to this 10-foot-by-20-foot storage locker.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE OPENING)

MALONE: So this is the empire.

KOOPERSMITH: So this is - yeah.

MALONE: In this warehouse is Adrienne's life work - hundreds and hundreds of pages of holidays, or, as she calls them, holi-dates (ph). She's been making these things since the 1990s.

All right, let's - let's go in.

We shimmy into a storage locker.

Oh, ow (ph).

KOOPERSMITH: We'll see what this is.

MALONE: She grabs a box, opens it up.

KOOPERSMITH: Let's see what we have.

MALONE: This is a whole list of holi-dates right here.

KOOPERSMITH: I don't have my glasses on, so I can't see.

MALONE: Oh, do you want me to read them?

KOOPERSMITH: Yeah (laughter). This is your interview, dear. (Laughter).

MALONE: (Laughter). OK, let me read them to you.

KOOPERSMITH: OK.

MALONE: January 2, The Great Escape Day.

KOOPERSMITH: Yeah, OK.

MALONE: January 16, Dealin' with the Dentist Day. February 6, pack - Pay a Compliment Day.

KOOPERSMITH: Oh, yeah, that one was picked up by "Chase's Calendar of Events."

MALONE: Really?

KOOPERSMITH: Pay a Compliment Day - oh, yeah, that's big, baby. That's big time.

MALONE: Adrienne doesn't remember all of these because she only submits the best of her ideas to "Chase's," and she's had around 20 of these picked up, including National Hug a G.I. Day, International Skeptics Day and Second Honeymoon Weekend.

KING: There are a handful of people like Adrienne who are prolific holiday contributors to "Chase's." There's a guy who does pun holidays. There's a couple in Pennsylvania who are known for irreverent holidays.

MALONE: But Adrienne has her own style. Her holliday's fall somewhere between quirky and profound. In fact, when I was visiting the "Chase's Calendar" editor, Holly...

MCGUIRE: Here - oh, Lost Penny Day.

MALONE: She read to me one of her favorite Adrienne holidays - Lost Penny Day.

MCGUIRE: To put aside all those pennies stashed in candy dishes, coffee cans, bowls and jars back into circulation, celebrated Abraham Lincoln's birthday. I just think that's really charming.

MALONE: It's a - it's a poetic little holiday.

MCGUIRE: Yeah, and very easy for anybody to celebrate.

MALONE: You were sort of clutching your chest as you read that.

MCGUIRE: (Laughter). I don't always do that.

KING: She sounds sad because Adrienne's holidays aren't in "Chase's" anymore.

MALONE: About 10 years ago, she asked Holly to pull them out, which - which is weird. But Adrienne had seen some of her holidays show up in commercials to sell things. And she felt like she was losing control a little bit. But I talked to Adrienne for hours. And I actually think that there's a story that helps explain why these holidays mean so much to her. It starts in the '70s, and she was dating this guy.

KOOPERSMITH: He was a gorgeous British guy. He was about five years older than I was. I mean, he was really, really - the accent, the coolness, the appeal, that kind of a thing, you know?

MALONE: Adrienne adored this guy. But it was a bad relationship. He drank, and she wanted him to go into Alcoholics Anonymous. And he kind of did, but not really. And so they eventually broke up. She found out later that he had died young. Adrienne says it was because of him and this period of her life that she started to think about events in a completely different way.

MCGUIRE: AA is very similar to an event. If you can make it through one day and your event is not doing drugs or not drinking...

KING: Then yeah, sure, that is an event. But that's an event about absence, about not doing something. And there's all this pressure attached to it. Will you fail? Will you succeed? So Adrienne thought maybe it would be easier, or at least make people happier, if there was always another event to celebrate.

MCGUIRE: So I started thinking, what can you do? In lieu of doing something bad, do something that's an event, even if it's for a minute a day, to get you through that day that pulls you away from what you're addicted by.

MALONE: That's kind of beautiful, right?

KING: Yeah, it is. But there is a very real business machine fueled by these made-up holidays. PR people use them to get companies television time. There's a book made up of these. It sells for 75 bucks.

MALONE: And it's all true. It's all true. It's just that I think the last thing I expected to find at the bottom of this machine were these little homemade holidays and a woman who's not making money off of them but who cares about these more than I knew anyone could ever care about a holiday.

So we're back at Adrienne's storage locker. And we're still reading through that list of her holi-dates. June 18, National Splurge Day.

KOOPERSMITH: That's it, baby. That's the big one.

MALONE: Is this your - is that your "Mona Lisa"?

MCGUIRE: My "Mona Lisa," probably that and National Smith Day.

MALONE: National Smith Day, that's to celebrate something completely ordinary, the last name Smith, or Koopersmith or whatever.

MCGUIRE: But there's other ones.

MALONE: Adrienne flips the page. And there's this list of holidays that just goes on forever.

MCGUIRE: See, there's a lot of...

MALONE: All right, I'm just going to go fast.

MCGUIRE: OK.

MALONE: Ready? July 2, Take a Starving Artist Out to Lunch Day, July 9, International Teen Idol Day, July 16, Sports Club Day, July 23, Belle of the Ball Day, July 30, King Biscuit Day, August 6, National Aunt and Uncle Day.

KOOPERSMITH: Oh, that was a good one.

MALONE: August 13, National Cowards Day, August 20, Going Going Gone Day, August 27, Universal Doorman Day, September 3...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: Do you have an industrial complex that you want us to look into? One thing we've been kicking around, the HR industrial complex. Send us your ideas, planetmoney@npr.org. Or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

MALONE: PLANET MONEY'S producer is Alex Goldmark. It's edited by Bryant Urstadt. Today's episode was produced by our intern, Daniela Vidal. This is Daniela's last week, and we're going to miss her so much. She also knows way more about weird holidays than anyone will ever know. Thank you so much, Daniela. Also, can you can please do us a favor? NPR is working with the Knight Foundation to better understand how listeners like you spend time with PLANET MONEY and other podcasts.

KING: You can help us by filling out a short, anonymous survey at npr.podcastingsurvey - it's all one word - dot com. It only takes 10 minutes, and you'll do us all at PLANET MONEY a huge favor by filling it out. That's npr.podcastingsurvey - all one word - dot com.

MALONE: I'm Kenny Malone.

KING: And I'm Noel King. Thanks for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MALONE: September 24, Soup du Jour Day, October 1, GOD Week - Get Organized Damnit. Oh, that one's misleading. But I like it.

KOOPERSMITH: OK, thank you.

MALONE: October 8, Olay (ph) Olives Day.

KOOPERSMITH: Oh, really? OK, all right (laughter).

MALONE: I don't know. October 15, GAB - Grow a Beard Day. See? Now, that - that had legs. Did that not take off?

KOOPERSMITH: OK, I didn't promote a lot of these.

MALONE: I think you missed an opportunity on Grow a Beard Day.

KOOPERSMITH: Oh, really? Why would you say that?

MALONE: Well, I think beards are pretty big. Although, the one problem with Grow a Beard Day is you can't really grow a beard in a day.

KOOPERSMITH: Well, you can't really grow a beard if you're a woman.

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