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The making of an 'extremely fake' Pa. holiday

Plus, a big loss in 'Little Sheetz.'

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

June 30, 2023
Inside this edition: Little Sheetz, boat life, best books, star parties, park plaudits, and National Pennsylvania Day. Thanks for stopping by.
🏆 HIGH SCORE: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: School voucher fight, pandemic dollars, and the many keys to Pittsburgh.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The Bachelorette premiered its 20th season on Monday. How many of the contestants call Pennsylvania home?

A. One
B. Two
C. Three
D. Four

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One closing worth knowing: The end of an era. Sheetz on the Point, a.k.a. “Little Sheetz,” in Indiana, Pa., is set to close in late July. The store was the third in a series of cafe concept stores and did not sell gas.

» One activity worth trying: Summertime is in full effect, and boats are the main characters again. If you don't have the luxury of owning one, Pittsburgh's City Paper has a helpful guide to acting like you do.

» One map worth viewing: If you’ve been looking for more local bookstores to visit to grow your book collection, check out a cool new map Artist Henry Crane made of the Philadelphia area's best.

» One place worth visiting: Did you know that Pennsylvania is home to one of the very few truly dark sky sites in all of the eastern United States? It hosts star parties for the public twice a year.

» One park worth eating: Since 2000, Knoebels has won awards 19 times, and not for what you might expect. The Inquirer (paywall) reports it boasts the "best food" on the national amusement park scene.

Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania. The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now.
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» School voucher debate could push budget past deadline

» How Pa. has (and hasn’t) spent $7.3B in COVID aid

» Trump target Al Schmidt now Pa.’s top election official

» Pa. chases hydrogen hubs amid safety concerns

» Pa. mortgage relief applicants in limbo — again

» Demand set to swamp Whole-Home Repairs Program

» Bill would lift medical marijuana ad ban on doctors

» Where Philly mail ballots are most likely to be rejected

» Tracking millions in state-related university spending
An AI-generated portrait of two make-believe Pennsylvania residents. Both are white. The male is wearing a denim shirt and the woman is wearing a plaid shirt.
Fake Pennsylvanians (made by BuzzFeed with AI) seen here preparing to celebrate the fake holiday known as National Pennsylvania Day. (Sara Thompson / Midjourney)

National Pennsylvania Day (July 20) is just around the corner. But is it real?

For those unfamiliar, the holiday marking Pennsylvania’s entry into the Union, which actually happened in December, was created in a lab by a man, Marlo Anderson, through his North Dakota-based calendar company. 

It’s been called an astroturfed, “extremely fake” holiday, which definitely tracks. 

Pennsylvania knows a thing or two about fakery, from fake Burger Kings to fake religious shrines to fake trees and fake children. (Capital-Star has a list of real ways to celebrate.)

But Anderson insists the holiday isn’t “fake” so much as concocted out of thin air, and even if it is “fake,” he says, who cares? People enjoy it. And there’s a million hyperniche, made-to-order holidays out there already, many marketing gimmicks that stimulate the human want for occasion — and food and beverage sellers’ want for more food and beverage buyers

PA Local caught up with Anderson by phone to discuss National Pennsylvania Day, how many holidays is too many, this April Fool’s Eve press release declaring it all a prank, the steady deluge of X-rated requests received by his office, and more.

Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

PA Local: Let’s start with the March 31 press release that called all of this the “world’s longest-running April Fool’s joke.” Say it ain’t so. 

Anderson: Oh, that was just a joke. The stating of the fact that it’s the longest April Fool’s joke was an April Fool’s joke. 

PA Local: That’s so meta it’s making my head hurt.

Anderson: We like to have a little fun from time to time. A few years ago we did one saying Congress was debating adding 15 more days to the calendar. 

PA Local: But your business is real?

Anderson: Yes. It started out as a blog about 10 years ago and today we have a staff of about 12 [not including contractors] and receive 30,000 applications a year for new national holidays. 

[Editor’s note: Anderson said they only charge for the few dozen they approve a year. Corporate packages for accepted submissions can run from $25,000 to $100,000, and Anderson said they’re losing money on most deals. National Pennsylvania Day was not commissioned. Anderson’s company came up with the idea as a way to engage all 50 states.] 

PA Local: Could we apply, for example, to make June 23 National I-95 Reopening Day? Would you accept that application? 

Anderson: It’s a pretty tough litmus test to become a new national holiday. And rightfully so. I mean, you can’t just declare them for all the things we have coming in or it just doesn’t mean anything anymore.

[Editor's note: See National Tweed Day and Lima Bean Respect Day on 4/20.]

We get questioned a lot about, you know, is there enough room in the calendar. Right now we have about 1,500 holidays. I figure we have room for maybe another 200 to 300 before it starts getting pretty crowded. You might have National Vegetarian Day on the same day as National Hamburger Day. We’re at the point where we’re thinking about how we can retire some.

PA Local: So is that a no on National I-95 Reopening Day?

Anderson: The first test is how people will look at this 30 or 50 years from now and the reopening of an interstate won’t pass that litmus test at all.

We had a lot of people wanting National COVID Day or National Pandemic Day and those types of things, but it’s like the swine flu of 1919, nobody talks about it anymore. Yet Oreo cookies are still talked about and they were around in 1919.

PA Local: A million Americans died from COVID. Surely that’s a lasting impact.

Anderson: Yeah, I mean, you know, I could see something like [National COVID Day] happening, but it would have to be presented in a way that I think would be clever, enduring, those types of things. Then, of course, yeah.

PA Local: But does that sort of prove the point that [the cottage calendar/made-to-order holiday industry] is more about commercialization than genuine commemoration? I realize every holiday is commercialized now, but usually that isn’t the initial reason for them.

Anderson: There’s certainly a commercial aspect to this. We get lobbied by companies like crazy. But you could make the same argument, like you said, about Easter and Christmas. And outside of Independence Day, every holiday has been made up. Somebody had an idea to make this or that a holiday and it was made a holiday because of that.

PA Local: What’s the weirdest pitch you’ve received?

Anderson: Well, if we ever wanted to start an adults-only calendar we could. You cannot imagine the requests we get. Sometimes we’ll get one: “You gotta declare National Heather Day,” and we’ll go through the whole process and then six weeks later we’ll reach out and say something like “I’m sorry we don’t do requests for individual people” and the person who submitted it will say “That’s OK, we broke up already.”

PA Local: What’s a weird pitch that’s been approved?

Anderson: National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day (Aug. 8). But I don’t actually know if that was approved by us or if it was there before we started. 

PA Local: Anything else in the works?

Anderson: We’re working on a radio show and a TV show, and there’s a movie called Oh, What a Day. It’s set to start filming in upstate New York and Las Vegas this fall. It’s about a journalist named Claire Day, and she gets caught up in having to write about all the national holidays and experiencing them herself.

[Editor’s Note: Anderson said plans for a very similar sounding movie starring SNL’s Kate McKinnon — teased in this Billy Penn piece from 2018 — fell apart. He declined to discuss it in further detail on the record. McKinnon’s agent did not respond to PA Local by press time.]

PA Local: OK, but setting aside the spinoffs, do we really need this many holidays? Why is there such a public appetite for this?

Anderson: I think people are looking for a bit of good news in this world and a reason to get together. I truly believe that’s what this is all about. 

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"I like talking to my dog more than people. Today while pruning my fruit trees he wants to know why we don’t have a meatball tree. I had to explain we plant apples so the deer come in, then we make the meatballs."

—State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) on the origins of venison meatballs

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.

A wide shot of the dam at Lackawanna State Park in Lackawanna County, via Scott G. Have a photo to share? Send it to us , use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A wide shot of the dam at Lackawanna State Park in Lackawanna County
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

B. Two

Josh Young, 28, from Bethlehem, and Tanner Courtad, 30, from Pittsburgh, will be competing for Bachelorette Charity Lawson’s heart.

There's also Joey Graziadei, a MontCo native now living in Hawaii.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania. The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now.
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