We began wondering about NBFD as it climbed the list of Facebook’s trending topics on Monday. It was “celebrated” by every local TV news station from D.C. to Memphis. It racked up 136,000 tweets and millions of Instagrams. And yet its Wikipedia page — already flagged for deletion as a hoax — was created by a brand-new user only Monday.
Where the heck did this “holiday” come from, and who created it? (More importantly: Am I a terrible friend/person for failing to commemorate it?)
The birth of a hashtag holiday
Holidays, of varying legitimacy, are made every day. Aside from your usual suspects — religious, national, professional, etc. — you have a capricious cast of locally designated, corporately sponsored and otherwise random holidays. Friday’s National Donut Day, for instance, dates back to a Salvation Army awareness campaign from the 1930s. International Talk Like a Pirate Day, celebrated on Sept. 20, was declared by a few dudes on YouTube.
These holidays presumably start somewhere. There’s a discrete point at which a lobbying group or a fame-seeking weirdo plants his flag in the calendar.
NBFD, alas, has no such origin — at least not one that we could find. Just a passing reference in a now-offline Chicago Sun-Times column, circa 2007.
“June 8 is ‘Best Friends Day,’” wrote Mary Wisniewski, who now works at Reuters. “And there’s still plenty of time to plan your Imbolic feast for next Feb. 1.”
Did Wisniewski invent NBFD? Well no, not quite. She was recommending that readers check out EarthCalendar.net, a mysterious, 15-year-old calendar site. Earth Calendar specializes in cataloging “lesser-known holidays,” like the oft-overlooked date for Raccoon Appreciation. It also works on a submission system: If you want to see a certain holiday on the site, you can just mail it in.
This means that, as the site’s owner explains in a disclaimer, not every holiday listed is necessarily “real.” (The owner of Earth Calendar did not, alas, immediately respond to request for details.) There’s no telling, for instance, why NBFD is listed as June 8 — considering that pro-bestie bloggers and marketers had previously tried to set up shop on several other dates.
The #holiday goes mainstream
We know, then, that as the aughts wound down, NBFD existed as June 8 on at least one unsourced Internet calendar. There are a ton of holidays like this, though. To take off, NBFD would need a savvy marketer.
Enter BFF.tv, an aptly named, long-defunct entertainment site founded by an e-commerce company. Shortly after its launch in 2009, BFF partnered with DoSomething.org (as well as 1-800-FLOWERS, Clear Channel and Myspace) on an event in Times Square to “celebrate” National Best Friend Day. User-generated BFF photos appeared on a billboard. BFF.tv encouraged users to tweet their event with the hashtag #bff.
Most importantly, BFF.tv touted a big June 8 appearance on the “Today Show,” where the Web site was name-dropped to 5 million people in two separate segments: one on the importance of having a best friend (so important that “there’s a new web site all about them!”) and the other on the Times Square marketing stunt. Here’s how they kicked off that segment:
NATALIE MORALES, anchor: Well, this may be the unofficial start of summer but, [did] you know, Monday, June 8th is National Best Friends Day?
AL ROKER: Hm.
… Hm indeed, Al. Hm indeed. Morning TV, it should be said, is still really into NBFD.
Celebrating your #holiday, for fun and $$
Despite the big BFF.tv/”Today Show” push, NBFD didn’t automatically take off from here. After all, it’s hard to maintain viral interest in something that only happens once a year.
Data from Google shows that people searched the holiday intermittently: June 2011, April 2012, August 2012, January 2013. That’s really unusual for a holiday: In general, these things follow cyclical search patterns, flaring up during the month they take place. NBFD’s meandering search trends suggest that the majority of Googlers weren’t on board — there was no mainstream Internet consensus on the much-hyped holiday.
But there was a seed, a suggestion of something — something profitable, if we’re to judge by 1-800-FLOWERS’s NBFD bouquets. It was shareable, universal, faultlessly nice — the perfect hashtag holiday.
And so, gradually, other organizations and companies began to “celebrate.”
In Britain, employees at the Waterstone bookstore chain promised to perform “random acts of kindness” for NBFD, a PR move that earned mentions in at least two papers overseas. Closer to home, online retailer Modcloth advertised special “prezzies” to “celebrate your BFF” — a bit of needless consumerism that’s also hit Vera Bradley and Alex and Ani.
We won’t even get into all the local news outlets thirsty for your pics and clicks: “June 8 is officially National Best Friends Day,” said WMC Action News in Memphis. “Show your best friend how much you care by sharing photos of the two of you with us!”
In short order, so many people said June 8 was National Best Friend Day that everyone else accepted it as fact — or it actually became fact, in a weird ontological puzzle that could only exist on the Internet. During Monday’s record-breaking hubbub, for instance, a new Wikipedia editor started a page for the holiday. (Another user has since flagged it for deletion, noting there’s no evidence it exists.) And Googling “National Best Friend Day” now turns up a definitive answer in Knowledge Graph: “Monday, June 8.”
Does a thing exist when we say it does? Or does it only earn that status through enough Instagrams and tweets? There are no satisfying answers to these questions, unfortunately.
But regardless of National Best Friend Day’s origins, it’s been made real by the hashtagging crowd. Forget the “Hallmark holiday” — we live in the world of hashtag holidays now.
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