Henceforth, let February Third be known as Norman Rockwell Day, for on that date in 1894 the world welcomed America’s greatest illustrative idealist. Now, it was not I who founded this well-earned holiday, and the rules for celebrating it. A good friend of mine learned it from his father, who learned it from his father, Willy.
As a little boy growing up in Arlington, Vermont, Willy held on to each and every Saturday Evening Post and Boy’s Life cover he could find. The walls in his room were covered in them. It might sound a little nutty to you, but times were tough. America was still going through the Great Depression, and Rockwell’s vision of a brighter future inspired people all across the country.
When Norman Rockwell moved his family to Arlington in 1939, it was a dream come true for Willy. When Rockwell handpicked Willy to model for “A Scout is Helpful,” an image of a Boy Scout rescuing a little girl from a lake, it was the greatest moment in Willy’s life. He felt like the scrawniest of sixteen year-olds, but Rockwell saw “heroic potential in him.” When America was drawn into WWII, and Willy was drafted to the front, these words gave him the strength to fight the Axis of Evil instead of high tailing to Canada. They also hampered Willy’s sneaking suspicion that “Willie” Gillis, Rockwell’s gawky cover boy for the armed forces, was based off him.
Fast forward almost four decades, to 1978, the year Norman Rockwell died of a heart attack. Willy lost his hero. What was he going to do? And then it came to him, like a cherry on a sundae. He was going to set aside one day every year to appreciate the wacky ingenuity that makes America great. One day to see America as it should be, and not necessarily as it is. One day to see the country as Rockwell saw it.
Since then, Willy and his son have been planning trips around February Third with the goal of achieving a uniquely American experience. They tracked down the world’s largest bottle of ketchup and ate it. They traveled down the Mississippi River on a wooden raft (a la Huckleberry Finn). One year they even rode horses from Lexington to Concord, ringing bells and yelling at people the whole way down.
As the tradition became more and more finite, the four golden rules fell into place:
- You have to tell everyone you meet that it’s Norman Rockwell Day. “Happy Norman Rockwell Day” is preferred, but “Merry Norman Rocks Socks Day” is also acceptable.
- You must designate an American Ritual or challenge in which to take part. Some tried and true examples are:
- Chop down a cherry tree, and proudly own up to it.
- Drive a Spike into the Pacific Railroad
- Attempt to purchase Louisiana
- Dress your dog up like a President. (Extra points for Millard Fillmore)
- Paint a self-portrait of painting a self-portrait.
- Experience must be photographed/documented in a Rockwellian Fashion.
- Wherever you go, you must take the road less traveled. (That was said by Robert Frost, not Rockwell, but it captures the spirit of the holiday.)
Now that’s down, and your excitements been piqued, there is just one word of caution I have. Stay close to your team. Be kind to the bossy, the weak, and the glum. There’s no fighting on Norman Rockwell Day, just lighthearted fun.
Written by Alex Schattner (2/3/13)