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A sweet day for Hallmark

Peruse the greeting card aisle at your nearest Target or Hallmark and you likely will find, nestled among cards for birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, a pink rack labeled "Sweetest Day."

By JAY CRIDLIN
Published October 21, 2006


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Peruse the greeting card aisle at your nearest Target or Hallmark and you likely will find, nestled among cards for birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, a pink rack labeled "Sweetest Day."

"Happy Sweetest Day," one card says. "It's about time they named a day after you."

"If you're a dream, don't wake me up," another coos. "Happy Sweetest Day."

Aww.

We just have one question: Huh? Sweetest Day? Are we sure this is a holiday?

"No idea what it is," said Chris Cardamone, 30, of Tampa, walking hand-in-hand with his girlfriend through Ybor City.

"Never heard of it," said Jesse Morse, 42, of New Tampa.

Added his wife, Stephanie, 34: "What do you mean - 'Swedish,' as in Sweden?"

No, it's Sweetest. As in saccharine. And it's today.

Back in 1939, the New York Times painted Sweetest Day as the sugarplum vision of "candy men" hoping "to exploit the sentiment of gift-giving" during the upcoming World's Fair in New York. This confectionery cabal - Big Nougat, if you will - hoped to "develop a special fall gift-giving occasion which might compare with Valentine's Day, Mother's Day or Easter."

Critics have a name for these greeting card-driven dates: the Hallmark Holiday.

But does Sweetest Day qualify? Here's the history offered on the backs of some Carlton Cards: "Celebrated the third Saturday in October, Sweetest Day started in 1927, when a candy company employee organized a group to help deliver candy and small gifts to orphans and others whose lives needed brightening. Today, lovers and romantics embrace the day as well, but it's still a time to remember those who bring happiness to our lives."

In Great Lakes cities like Detroit and Cleveland, Sweetest Day dinners and dances are a regional tradition. The holiday has spread as Midwesterners have moved to other corners of the country.

Florida is now the sixth-sweetest Sweetest Day state for Cleveland-based American Greetings, which makes Carlton Cards. The number of Florida stores selling Hallmark Sweetest Day cards has risen by more than 200 over last year.

Nationally, Hallmark has boosted its run of Sweetest Day cards from 48 in 2000 to 151 today. American Greetings is up to 178 designs, including cards for friends, children and family members. Snoopy and Mickey Mouse are in on the action, hawking Sweetest Day cards of their own.

Hallmark, as you might expect, takes exception to the phrase "Hallmark Holiday." Officials bristle at the notion that the company - which lists 56 card-worthy dates on its corporate calendar, including Friendship Day, Citizenship Day and Clergy Appreciation Day - could invent a new gift-giving occasion through sheer will and a healthy marketing budget.

"It would be foolish for a company like Hallmark to create cards where there's no market," said Hallmark spokeswoman Rachel Bolton. "It would be like making some style of clothing that isn't fashionable. People aren't going to buy it."

Ohio native John Gross might disagree. "I had a girlfriend there that made me do Sweetest Day," said the 30-year-old St. Petersburg physician. "I kind of felt like it was a Hallmark Holiday, and I didn't feel like it was part of the core of Ohio. But I'd heard about it, and so therefore I was almost obligated to get her flowers or a card, or whatever."

Some folks don't have a problem with another rosy pink date on the calendar.

"I've never heard of it," said Ingrid Holguin, 22, of Tampa. "But there should be a greeting card for everything. Maybe someday it'll become a holiday that everyone celebrates, you know?"

Fair enough. After all, it should be easy to support a day devoted to tokens of appreciation, goodwill and love, even if it is at the behest of a $4.2-billion-a-year greeting card company like Hallmark.

"A holiday serves a sociocultural need that people have," Bolton said. "It's a break from routine. It's something special for people, and I guess we need that in our lives. And if it doesn't occur naturally, we make it up."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Jay Cridlin can be reached at 727 893-8336 or cridlin@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 20, 2006, 20:48:24]


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