Though it doesn’t often reach much farther east or north than Reading, Pennsylvania, Sweetest Day is celebrated yearly in the midwest on the third Saturday in October as a kind of second Valentine’s Day. This year, Sweetest Day falls on October 18. The holiday’s origins are more corporate than religious—invented in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1921 by candymaker C.C. Hartzell—but to its celebrants’ credit, they hold few delusions.
Efforts were made early on to bring Sweetest Day to New York, with little success, but it remains popular in midwest cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. Though many decry it as a “Hallmark Holiday,” drummed up to sell candy and gifts, and though it mostly is, the original Sweetest Day was marked by charity. In Cleveland, 20,000 boxes of candy were gifted to “newsboys, orphans, old folks, and the poor,” who, to be fair, probably could have used actual food more than candy, but it’s a sweet gesture. (Pun acknowledged.)
Whether in the Midwest or on the East Coast, the romantic holiday reign of Valentine’s Day remains unchallenged. It certainly has history on its side, and the greeting card industry. The tradition of sending Valentine cards in the mail dates back to the Victorian era, and the cupid iconography is pretty immovable V-Day branding. But one thing Sweetest Day does have over Valentine’s Day is the month of October. February totally sucks.
As far as romantic strolls go, you’ll be lucky to pull any rightminded New York soul out from under the blankets on a night in February without the promise of candlelight and overt romance, much less out for an arm-in-arm constitutional in the park. February is dreary and gray, even for people who love winter, with none of the charm of December or the newborn hope of January.
October, by contrast, is lovely, and Sweetest Day is always a Saturday. The slightest nip in the air (global warming be damned), leaves crunching underfoot, the requisite pumpkin beverage—it’s the stuff of L.L. Bean ads. And isn’t that what love is really about? And it isn’t just for couples; Sweetest Day is an occasion to celebrate the “sweetest” people in your life—family, friends, even pets, I guess. Why not? It is the smiley emoticon of romantic holidays: earnest, and with none of the expectations or drama of the semicolon winky face.
But all of this is gravy compared to the real charm of Sweetest Day in New York: You can get a reservation anywhere. From the two-top by the window, you can thank Cleveland for a romantic holiday that doesn’t suck.
Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.