10 Made-Up Holidays to Celebrate This Year

It’s been a rough year. Infuse your calendar with things you can look forward to.

All illustrations and photos by Sophie Lucido Johnson.

My favorite book is a children’s book by Byrd Baylor called I’m in Charge of Celebrations. It is a perfect book, and if you don’t have it or haven’t read it, please do yourself a favor and buy a copy right now. It makes a great present for any adult and for most children, so you won’t regret the purchase, and it’s only available in paperback, so it’s cheaper than a burrito.

The premise of the book is that the narrator lives in the desert, and she doesn’t celebrate regular holidays. Instead, she gets to choose her own holidays, and she chooses a LOT. She celebrates the day she saw a coyote and the day the clouds looked like green parrots. (And a lot of other days, but I do not want to spoil this book for you, and like I said, you have to read it.)

I am also a big fan of celebrating things that other people don’t celebrate. There are lots of reasons to spread out your celebrations. First, if you decide to celebrate Groundhog Day with more pomp and particularity than Christmas, you will avoid expensive plane tickets and crowded holiday shopping catastrophes. Second, celebrating new stuff that you’ve never celebrated before takes some of the pressure off holidays, which we tend to build up in our minds and imbue with way too much weight. Third, if you get to pick the celebrations, you can go ahead and pick a LOT!

Celebrating is a necessary part of important work. If there are activists out there you admire, notice not only how they fight, but also how they rest. If there’s nothing to celebrate, there’s less to live for, there’s less to believe in, and there’s less reason to get up and try again. Bright spots are paramount.

So I suggest you try to have a few celebrations this year. Of course, you can make up your own (and you should!). But these can be celebrated in a group (with safety precautions for Covid-19, of course — as we enter into the summer, there can be safe outdoor gatherings, especially among vaccinated folks) or by yourself. Put celebrations on your calendar. They’re cheaper and quicker than vacations, and the result is often similar: You feel a whole lot better, at least for a little while.

1. A birthday party for a plant

I don’t know about you, but man, do I ever get mesmerized by plants. I can’t believe that all you have to do is make a seed wet and wait and something will probably grow out of it. There’s so much about being alive that is wilder than any science fiction I’ve ever read (it’s just that we’ve gotten used to it), but the process of plants is probably the most magnificent of all. If you live somewhere where there’s winter, spring can feel like a months-long festival, where every day there’s a new act to watch and admire, and you feel guilty if you don’t leave your room one day because you’re going to miss something spectacular.

One way to avoid the FOMO of the Annual Collective Plant Orgasm that starts in March and goes and goes and goes tirelessly until, like, November, is to zoom in. Choose one seed, and plant it with great deliberateness. You might plant it in some soil in an egg carton or maybe in a small pot or maybe right into the ground. Maybe, if it’s a bean or a sunflower, you’ll want to do the grade school method of soaking a paper towel in water, putting it in a plastic bag, and sticking the seed in the moisture, so you can watch every stage of its growth. Watch it and track it. Be a curious kid about it. Take notes, talk to it, sing to it, water it, encourage it. Read about your plant. Learn what to expect. Marvel at its idiosyncrasies, at the surprising turns it will take.

You get to decide when the plant’s birthday is. For me, it is the day the flower of the plant opens up. Now, some plants don’t flower until autumn, and some actually don’t flower at all. You can choose to celebrate on a certain day, so you can plan the birthday party and not need to do it on a whim. Whatever day you choose—go all out. Get a cake, make a playlist, throw together some party games, have punch. Invite people over or don’t. Make sure the plant is front and center, and then take the opportunity to celebrate someone who (let’s face it) isn’t going to care if you do a bad job. This is a great thing to celebrate because you can’t do it wrong, so you get to focus on what it feels like to be having fun for the sake of having fun, celebrating for the sake of celebration.

On this same note, I celebrate a personal holiday every year that I call Gildersplat (I hate this name now, but I came up with it when I was 14 and it’s too late to change it). This is the inevitable day in spring when it has rained and been cold for at least a week, and then one day it is suddenly warm and sunny and the birds are going nuts and all these new flowers open up. Ever since I was in high school, I have skipped school on this day to eat popsicles, walk around, and admire the new flowering things. It is probably my favorite of all the holidays.

2. Find a rock day

Byrd Baylor has written and I have written about the importance of finding a good rock. But not everyone is lucky enough to have the perfect rock just come to them. Sometimes you have to search. Mark the day on your calendar, and choose a place where you know there are going to be a lot of rocks and where you are sure no one is going to miss just one of them. (By which I mean, don’t choose a national park where the rocks are actually critical to the ecosystem, and it’s illegal to take them.)

If you are doing this alone, put on headphones and the kind of music you can really fall into. Walk slowly. Pick up lots of rocks, and notice how they feel in your hand. If there’s water nearby, get the rock wet and see what it looks like. If the rock started out wet, make sure you know what it looks like when it’s dry. At some point, try listening to the rock. Every once in a while, this yields a nice result, and you hear something. I can’t describe this to you any more than that. You will just have to experience it for yourself.

When you’ve found your rock, take it home, put it in a nice box with some lovely fabric, take a picture of it, and give it a name if you want to. Drink lemonade.

3. Draw-a-thon

In New Orleans, where I used to live, there is an annual Draw-A-Thon. There was one year where this event shook me to my very core—in a good way. That year, they covered the whole space with parchment paper (including the ceilings, including the floors), and you could draw anywhere. There was a castle projected on the wall that you could trace or add to. There was a black box with an artist sitting inside, and you passed the artist something you wrote on a slip of paper, and they would draw it and hand it back to you. There was a place with blank postcards and an old yellow phone book where you could draw a picture on a postcard and address it to a random stranger. (The Draw-A-Thon people mailed them.) There were tables with drawing prompts, drawing games, and drawing challenges. Everyone got a free pencil. The littlest children and the oldest grown-ups all had something to occupy them, and it felt like a magnificent collaboration.

Drawing games are easy and fun and cheap, and gathering people to play them is a great way to spend an afternoon. There’s Pictionary, of course, and Exquisite Corpse. You can do a pass-around drawing, where everyone has to add something new. You can have the party collaboratively decorate a set of playing cards or tarot cards or business cards. You can have people draw in old books. You can come up with a whole day of events, create a schedule, and invite people to come do the things that most interest them.

Or, you can set aside six hours for yourself, where all you do is draw. Use as much structure or as little structure as you want. I firmly believe you can’t be bad at drawing and that drawing is really good for a brain that is spending way too much time with logic and language. I mean, yes, we need all these modalities. But the world we live in generally does not make much space for the drawing part of you—the part of you that wants to use colored pencils and crayons and watch what images come forth when given a little time and space.

4. Try something you always wanted to try day

Personally, I am thinking about things at Trader Joe’s here. There’s always something there that I’m like, “Well, that thing looks interesting, but I’m not going to buy it because when would I eat it?” Like, a peanut butter and jelly pie. When am I eating this? There is no good occasion. But am I curious? Sure. Or, there’s a 7-Up cake at the fruit market by our house, and Luke always says, “There’s the 7-Up cake again, and I want to know about it. But not enough to buy it.”

This kind of celebration works best with friends. Everyone brings over something they’ve wanted to try but haven’t. You have to bring enough to share. It can be a food or a game or a water balloon toy or whatever — just so long as everyone can try it. Then, everyone tries each thing, and a discussion ensues about what we think about the things.

Alternatively, I read in a holiday issue of a magazine this year about a cool idea where everyone brings something they recommend to the party, but enough for everyone. For example, I love EnerGel Clena pens, so if 10 people were coming to the party, I’d bring 10 pens. Everyone gets one of each thing, maybe packed into a nice box or something, and everyone leaves with a funny potluck-style goodie box of recommended items. I thought this party sounded like so much fun—because I love things. I cannot help this about myself.

Although I think this works best with others, you could also do it on your own. Who says you can’t just buy a 7-Up cake and try it in your living room with your favorite movie on? No one. Go for it.

5. Sneak some zucchini onto your neighbor’s porch day — August 8, 2021

This is a real and actual holiday, which is why there is a specific date on it. It came up on my Everyday Celebrations calendar last year, and I thought, “Okay, why not?” I went to the farmers market and bought a basket full of zucchini, and then wrapped them up in nice paper and left them on the front porches of the neighbors I didn’t know that well with a note that said, “Today is National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day! You are my neighbor; here is some zucchini. Love, Sophie — in the yellow house on the corner.” I am a huge proponent of meeting one’s neighbors, and who is going to be upset about some free zucchini? This year I will probably include a recipe for zucchini bread, which I sincerely love. Maybe I will also give people some eggs.

6. Sidewalk chalk compliment fest

This is a celebration I started doing in college and have done in smaller capacities ever since. I have never tried it as a party with other people, but I think it would be a fun thing to do as a team or as a series of teams. Here is how it works: You get a bucket of sidewalk chalk (So cheap! So accessible!) and walk to nearby public places. Then, in your nicest but largest handwriting, you write general kindnesses. Here are some ideas:

  • I am glad I am on the Earth at the same time as you.
  • Sometime something wonderful will happen.
  • You are doing a good enough job.
  • Today might get better.
  • I like the shoes you chose!
  • You matter a lot to someone.

In the age of Instagram, this kind of proclamation is a public service. People love to find a whimsical note on the sidewalk and take a picture of it. Sometimes they will text the picture of the compliment to someone they love. Then, suddenly, look at you! You’re helping people to have slightly better days all over the place.

Be sure to write your kindnesses in places where the rain will hit (that is, not on walls), so that they’ll be as impermanent as possible. This is great for the same reason pie is great and a bunch of flowers is great: You have to enjoy it now. You have no time to waste.

7. Fill-in-the-blank prom

It is silly that most people only get to wear prom clothes once or twice in their lives. Also, maybe you always wanted to wear a floor-length taffeta gown, but you never got to because that was just not the thing you ended up buying when you went to your prom. Or maybe you didn’t go to your actual prom. At the end of the day, it is fun to get extremely fancy, and it is much more fun to do this with a bunch of people so folks aren’t staring at you, and only you, wondering if you have lost your mind a little bit.

This celebration is: Everyone gets dressed up in a prom-like outfit (You can rent one! Or thrift one! Or borrow one!) and then you plan a day where you get to show your outfits off. Maybe the day is that you go to the movies, or the arcade, or for a walk along the pier. Maybe you go to a candy store and everyone gets to spend $6. Maybe you just put on music in someone’s backyard and dance and have pizza. Maybe you all go to the grocery store, or you volunteer at an animal shelter as a group, or everyone plants a tree. Anything goes, as long as you’re feeling fancy and safe.

8. Popcorn party

I gave everyone a lunch bag to decorate, and then they could fill it with whatever mix they wanted. I handed these out at a small bridge near my house. All day, I played pop music.

Popcorn is the easiest thing to make, and there are so, so, SO many ways to dress it up! Also, it is cheap. Also, it is great. Popcorn is easily my favorite snack, and there’s never been a time in my life when I haven’t wanted some. (I want some now!) To celebrate all that is awesome about popcorn, go ahead and pop way more plain popcorn than you could ever in a million years eat. An easy method is to fill a paper lunch bag with a third of a cup of popcorn seeds, fold it closed, put it in the microwave for three minutes or so, and then dump it into a bowl. Or you can do it your way, whatever you want.

Create at least three flavors. I recommend a classic, a sweet, and a spicy one, but there are many flavor combinations that work beautifully. Here are just a few:

  • Butter, sugar, cinnamon. (This one is good with chocolate chips thrown in too.)
  • Sesame oil, furikake, a little tamari
  • Olive oil, truffle salt, Parmesan cheese
  • Peanut oil and Cajun seasoning
  • Grapeseed oil, garlic salt, nutritional yeast, Everything But The Bagel seasoning

Once you have your popcorn creations, email everyone you know and let them know that they can drop by your house and grab a bag of whatever flavor(s) of popcorn they’d like — for free! List the flavors and a time window. (To tell you the truth, I did this outside in my neighborhood and offered it to anyone walking by, but I feel like you probably need a food handler’s license to do this legally. However, giving a nice popcorn present to strangers was really fun. You didn’t hear it from me.) It’s great to have a celebration where you get to give something away and make people happy.

9. Five places taste test

I would choose baked goods for this one, but it could also be sushi, grilled cheese, root beer, Chinese takeout, pizza—whatever. Choose something you like to eat, and find five places where you can order it. (Five places that sell glazed doughnuts, for example.) Put them out on nondescript plates, so no one can tell where anything came from. Everyone tastes each of the five offerings and ranks them one to 10. You’ll learn not only where to find your favorite doughnut, but where to buy doughnuts in the future for a party that will be sure to please the most people.

10. Singalong

I’ll go down swinging defending my belief that people were designed to sing. If this wasn’t true, our bodies wouldn’t do it so well, and it wouldn’t feel so good when we do it. Churches had something figured out when they decided that a big feature of a Sunday service would be people singing together. It makes you feel connected, vulnerable, strong, unified. And the one thing that kind of stinks about karaoke is that if you like to sing but your pitch is off or you’re not super musically inclined, you have to kind of sing to yourself, alone in the back, watching while other people belt it out. It can be more about the ego than about the act of singing itself. So I think people should have singalongs as much as and as often as they can. This is another free party, where all you need is your human body and access to lyrics of well-known songs. Everything after that is extra.

You might decide to tell people in advance what songs to expect, and ask them to practice alone if they want to. You might print out books of song lyrics. Maybe you’ll provide percussion instruments so people can feel the rhythm if they’re not wanting to vocalize anything. Maybe you’ll do a singalong to a movie. Or put on music videos with lyrics below them in your living room for everyone to sing along to. A circle around a fire is a great place to sing along. Someone might want to bring a guitar, and that might be a great idea.

If you are sitting there, reading this and thinking, “Yeah, I would like to sing with friends, but I don’t think anyone else would want to do that with me,” hear this: You’d be surprised. Like I said, it feels good to sing together.

If you are sitting there, reading this and thinking, “I LITERALLY HATE SINGING. I CAN’T BELIEVE I AM STILL READING THIS. THIS WRITER HAS NOT CONVINCED ME TO LIKE SINGING OR TO SING WITH ANYONE EVER, I AM FURIOUS,” I have good news for you! I am done talking about this, and this list is over.

A person who writes and draws and eats her feelings.

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