National Days: National Pi(e) and Chips (Crisps) Day

I promised in February Stars that I would be starting two new series this month, and then extended that from two to three. This is the first post in the second of those three.

Longer term readers may recall the forerunner to this: back in my early blogging days I ran a series called ‘Dates To Note,’ which you can find in the menu above. Most of those were about days with health and social care themes, but this newer version is a little different. You may have noticed that a largely (but not totally) American trait is to call a day the ‘National Day of…’ Many of these are worth our consideration, others less so, and this new series will be having a little bit of fun with some of them. Readers of a nervous disposition are advised to look away now.

If I had managed to post this yesterday I could have ‘celebrated’ National Open An Umbrella Indoors Day, or maybe National Coconut Torte Day (no, me neither). See what I mean about the weirdness and irrelevance of some of these? As this series develops, you will spot the more obvious links to many of these supposedly notable days, though – the US is nothing if not a commercialised country!

Today is actually one of the days that I have marked before, on several occasions. As the Americans do the calendar backwards, today for them is 3/14, which has become recognised as National Pi Day. As a mathematical concept is a little difficult to digest, this has somehow become National Pie Day instead. This is what I said last year about this day:

“In the UK last week was British Pie Week, whilst in the USA 14 March is National Pi Day. Being a good British citizen of proportions that make me the answer to the football fans’ chanted question ‘Who ate all the pies?’ I was naturally drawn to this. However on further investigation I found that the British event was in fact a ‘celebration’ started in 2007 by Jus-Rol who make…yes, you guessed it…pastry. I felt rather let down by that, as we have such a tradition of pie-making in this country that it deserves better than blatant commercialism. 

It was actually the fact that the Americans thought that Pi was worthy of a whole day to itself that first caught my attention. My mind was suddenly full of images of those guys who used to present the Open University maths progammes in the 80s – wild hair, wild eyes, outrageous shirts and strange knitwear – gathering together (in circles, of course) chanting strange incantations to the mythical aspects of a mathematical constant, whatever they may be.

In case you’re like me and school was a long time ago – or you didn’t listen – the definition of Pi given on the official website is:

“Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.”

I had a lot of fun with this, and if you’d like to see the full post this is it: Anyone for Pi? You can see their confidence that everyone in the world does things their way – no, sorry, we don’t – but I should warn you that there are a couple of scary images in there. The link to the Pi Day website is worth following up if you’d like to learn more about how the day is marked – just in case boredom has set in…

Today is also celebrated in the States as National Potato Chip Day. Yes, really, they have a whole day dedicated to crisps. Not wanting to piss on their parade – alright, I do want to – but I wonder if they realise that what they have misnamed was actually a British culinary invention? There is this myth over there that the creation dates back to 1853, when a restaurant in Saratoga allegedly ‘invented’ them in response to a dissatisfied customer, and the name Saratoga Chips persists to this day. How wrong can you be? The first recipe was actually published in 1817, in a book called The Cook’s Oracle, written by a British chap called William Kitchiner, who was an optician, inventor, musician and cook. I guess that with a name like that he just had to go into cooking, really. I’ve no idea why the name has been changed, but it is probably just another example of the usual difference between Proper English and American English. Mass production for the product appears to have begun in the US in the early 20th century – there is more than one company claiming to have been first – but we here in the UK can claim the first ‘flavoured’ crisps, as the Smith’s Potato Crisps Company (founded 1920) instigated the inclusion of a small bag of salt in their packets. Remember them? Full flavouring began in Ireland in the 1950s, due to an innovation by Joe “Spud” Murphy, the owner of the Irish crisps company Tayto, who developed a technology to add seasoning during manufacture. After some trial and error, Murphy and his employee Seamus Burke produced the world’s first seasoned crisps: Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar. The rest, as they say, is history…

And now American-led commercialism has a dedicated day to encourage people to overeat unhealthy foodstuffs. But they have chosen a good day for it: today is also Daylight Saving Day in the States, so they have one hour fewer to stuff their faces! They could at least get it right, however. This, guys, is how to celebrate National Pie and Chips Day:

Condiments optional 😉

Out of curiosity I checked Google to see if, as in previous years, they had changed their homepage to reflect Pi Day. They haven’t – this is today’s:

My first thought was that it was nice to see an American company recognising that we are one of the countries that celebrates Mother’s Day today, rather than in May, like the US and others. But then I realised that in the US today is also National Children’s Craft Day: guess which one I think they’re marking? Maybe they could combine things a bit – how about a National Get Your Kids To Paint A Crisp Day?

See you again soon for some more cultural differences and trivia.