Startup culture is on the rise, the old gatekeeper system is in a downward spiral, and the importance and meaning of traditional holidays is dwindling. With the convergence of all those trends, we’re seeing an upsurge in newly created holidays that honor the recently deceased and their great traits.
Such days might not be widely celebrated, and few people are likely to get the day off work, but among those who do acknowledge the day, the tributes are heartfelt and real—far more meaningful than some posts on a Facebook wall, a Legacy.com page or even an obituary in a good old-fashioned newspaper.
For me—and hundreds of others who worked with the late, great Jay Chiat at ChiatDay—one day that has resonance is JayDay, even a decade after Jay’s death. Jay was the Steve Jobs of the ad world, a trailblazer, genius and fearless warrior who taught me countless truths, like “Good enough is never enough.” He inspired a lot of us who worked for him, and for that reason many of us former alumni (and people who wish they’d been alumni) think of June 21 not just as the first day of summer. It’s also a day for us to commemorate him, to remember everything he taught us, and to recommit to emulating his vision and energy ourselves. (And yes, June 21 was chosen for a reason. It’s the longest day of the year, giving us ample time to do the suggested acts of remembrance, including “Buy art from a young artist,” “Give your cleaning lady $200” and “Dare to do something different.”) Mark your calendars, and join in the good works next June 21.
On a much broader scale, Mandela Day was founded to inspire all of us to follow the example of the history-changing South African leader. This year, the first Mandela Day was observed since its namesake died. The day of recognition is officially on July 18, Mandela’s birthday, but the day’s website urges us to “Make every day a Mandela Day” and take #time2serve. In 2014, events in 126 countries furthered the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s goal of inspiring individuals to “take responsibility for making the world a better place, one small step at a time.”
Unlike historic holidays in the United States, holidays like Mandela Day are a celebratory call to action. The website for Mandela Day includes pages such as “What Can I Do?” and “Take Action.” Compare that with the flag waving and flower laying that define the traditional observance of mainstream holidays honoring the dead in many countries.
The mega- or metatrend that combines service when paying tribute to the recently deceased with all things local is evidenced in the moving Lily Sarah Grace fund, an organization established after the tragic death of three young sisters in a fire on Christmas Day 2011 near my community of Stamford, Conn. It’s not a holiday, per se, but an ongoing effort, so I believe it has relevance here. The girls’ father honors their memory by encouraging others to live as his daughters would have and to support what they most loved to do: art.
Lily, Sarah and Grace’s father’s moving tribute isn’t mere pageantry but encourages positive change in the world through education and grants to strong teachers in underfunded public elementary schools. Like JayDay, Mandela Day and other organizations and days around the world, the fundamental mission of Lily Sarah Grace isn’t to mourn or publicly proclaim, but to inspire real action.
Another thing that JayDay, Mandela Day and Lily Sarah Grace have in common: strategic branding. There are human faces behind these causes. Studies have shown that we’re more inclined to give—or to support a struggling artist, overtip our cleaning lady or find a community service project—when there’s an individual person attached. Otherwise, it’s just statistics and noise.
And the personal brands of these inspirational people are what inspire us. Whether they’re children or corporate gurus or global leaders, they embody qualities we wish we had. Their brands are admirable—and those brands push our buttons.
These new holidays and commemorations were created in a very short time after their namesake’s death. Our world no longer requires decades of hindsight to recognize the admirable qualities of the people behind these brands.
The real lesson we want to learn from these holidays? Civility. Jay Chiat could show irritability, but ultimately he was generous and respectful in his dealings with those who wandered into his ChiatDay world. Mandela’s crowning achievement is bringing civility to race relations in one of the most damaged countries in the world. And Lily, Sarah and Grace didn’t have an uncivil bone in their young bodies.
Even more than the amazing gifts of volunteering, donating or practicing random acts of kindness, a great takeaway from all the events would be showing respect and consideration to those around us every day.