It’s the same, every year. If our most cherished holidays aren’t denigrated falsely as pagan anachronisms, they’re indicted as examples of naked consumerism. As Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or even Easter and Christmas roll around, one can reliably count on the chorus of cynics ever ready with limitless reserves of smug to inform us that the holidays we celebrate are merely cynical creations of the card, flower, and chocolate companies and designed only to separate us from our money. There’s even a term for them: Hallmark Holidays.
Traditional and widely accepted holidays are portrayed not as annualized ritual expressions of genuine love, filial piety, and a yearning to find light and redemption among the chaos of a difficult existence, but rather as the sneer-worthy diversions of rubes who fell for a con.
Since everything activists create is a cynical appropriation of the human spirit, they can’t imagine or understand real expressions of human meaning, beauty, or emotion. They can’t imagine that anything could exist solely to enrich the soul.
Let’s stipulate for a moment that these unproven origin stories are true, that the worst machinations of capitalist conspirators are the whole truth behind our ritual and cultural celebrations: Valentine’s Day was created by florists; Mother’s and Father’s day were concocted by greeting card manufacturers; Christmas was made popular by Hasbro, Mattel, and the Sears Wish Book; and Easter is a conspiracy to sell Peeps! What’s the worst evil that can befall these suckers?
Well, people would celebrate the ideals of those days and possibly choose (remember that word… choose) to part with some of their money in exchange for a symbolic product that, in some small way, expresses their desire to commemorate the day’s purported ideals. Ironically, many of the same critics who proclaim the worthlessness and even manipulation behind traditional holidays are active and vocal participants in the various “activist” holidays that have become so popular of late. Earth Hour, Equal Pay Day, and Earth Day, to name just a few, are all now Google holidays that invade our lives and social media feeds with banners, slogans and, of course, virtual and real rallies.
Created either by advertising agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, or activists, these holidays are not natural expressions of care, yearning, love, or even concern for the planet, so much as they are top-down attempts to use annual ritualization to create events that convey false optics of mass desire and, in-turn, parlay those optics into political coercion down the line. They are, as Daniel Boorstin put it in his landmark study of modern mass media, “pseudo-events.” They take what people do for one day—or even one hour—out of a year and try to build the illusion of consistent political will from that expression.
Just as cynics criticize Christmas for being commercial, these holidays, too, are replete with t-shirts, bumper stickers and other symbols which are often bought to signal participation or virtuous “mindfulness” without the requiring the purchaser to actually deeply examine the issues at hand. These are not holidays, they are pep rallies and marketing ploys dressed up as political events and they are designed to take advantage of people by putting them into a holiday and group spirit.
Take Earth Hour for instance. The origins of the annual ritualization of darkness take us back to 2004 when corporate advertising giant Leo Burnett, at the behest of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a multinational NGO with deep corporate ties, dreamt up the idea of switching off the lights in Sydney, Australia for an hour. By March 31, 2007, the first “Big Flick,” as Earth Hour was initially called, occurred in Sydney. Over the next few years, with help from millions of marketing dollars and increasing social pressure, the holiday spread worldwide. By 2017, the USA Today reported that over 170 countries and territories became participants, and public landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum in Rome, the Pyramids in Egypt and the Golden Gate Bridge would have their lights shut off and public access hampered to acknowledge this holiday. (Parts of Sweden opted out, because of concerns about rape by recent migrants.)
The purpose of Earth Hour, according to the event’s website, is:
…to raise awareness and show people that it is possible to survive without all the electronic gizmos and energy consuming products that we have grown so accustomed to. By cutting back, people can make a huge difference and can take part in the battle against global warming.
Earth Hour isn’t just about the choice to live without gizmos for an hour though. On the “about” page of Earth Hour’s website, the organizers note: “Earth Hour is more than an event. It is a movement that has achieved massive environmental impact, including legislation changes by harnessing the power of the crowd.” (emphasis added)
Similarly, Equal Pay Day attempts to use the patina of “awareness” and belonging to create legislative change. On April 4, we all woke up to have our social media feeds flooded with references to this day. Created in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity as “a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages,” It is a day where participants are instructed to:
Wear RED on Equal Pay Day to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red” with their pay! On previous Equal Pay Days, grassroots organizing on fair pay swept local communities. Women’s business and professional associations, labor groups, civil rights organizations and others committed to equal pay coordinated activities to raise awareness about how to solve wage inequity.
Finally we come to Earth Day—the archetypal example of a holiday whose singular purpose is to generate political change. Depending on who you ask, Earth Day was either invented by Psychotic Murder Ira Einhorn (who was the emcee for the first Earth Day ceremonies in Philadelphia) or by activist governor Gaylord Nelson as a day for discussion of environmental problems. Regardless of whether it was founded by an activist or psychopath—or possibly a combination of both—the first Earth Day was a success. NBC News notes:
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in the spring of 1970 as a way to bring national awareness to the fact that, at the time, there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms in place to protect the environment. About 20 million participants at various Earth Day events across the U.S. made Earth Day a success, and in December of 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues—the EPA.
Since then Earth day has become a staple of the culture. Never really a national holiday, it might as well be. There are t-shirts, cards, flowers, celebrations, school assemblies all designed to “raise awareness of the environment” and, as intended with that first Earth Day, enact “positive” changes with regards to people’s actions and government’s response to what organizers see as an environmental crisis. Despite the fact that American opinions about the issue of environmentalism and climate change vary widely, you wouldn’t know it from the way in which Earth Day has permeated the popular culture.
The bottom line for all these “celebrations” is this: They’re not holidays. They’re annual political rallies.
So if we continue to stipulate the unproven but unceasingly alleged “for-profit” origins behind our traditional holidays, the real question then, becomes this: How is that any more cynical and mercenary than these new holidays of mass hysteria?
Is the for-profit creation of an atmosphere where people choose to be nice to one another worse than an NGO’s attempt to create a ritually annualized political rally seeking to generate good will and hope for the purpose of providing political cover for the government coercion of the populace? Sure, you might feel bad about not sending Mom a card in May. But does that outweigh the fines and prison terms you might suffer for failing to comply with environmental restrictions that owe their existence in part because of pseudo-events such as Earth Day?
What’s troubling is that as it becomes socially acceptable to criticize the traditional holidays, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to throw even the smallest bit of shade upon the “justice” holidays. So those who would criticize the traditional holidays while propping up social justice events do double damage. On the one hand they attempt to discredit holidays where free, choice-based expressions of compassion, love, and the search for meaning are encouraged while simultaneously creating an atmosphere that appropriates those same drives and needs and drives them towards coercive goals.
Ultimately, the distinction becomes one between holidays and annualized political events—with intelligentsia and popular culture increasingly seeking to establish the primacy of the latter at the expense of the former. In a stunning display of cultural projection, the organizers of these truly manufactured activist holidays seek to negate the possibility that real expressions of love, awe and compassion can exist without some top-down and mercenary organization to them. Since everything activists create is a cynical appropriation of the human spirit, they can’t imagine or understand real expressions of human meaning, beauty, or emotion. They can’t imagine that anything could exist solely to enrich the soul.