It started as fiction. In a 2010 episode of Parks and Recreation, Leslie, creative and crafty and bursting with kindness for the people she loves, invented a way to do something American culture hadn’t traditionally been too good at doing: celebrating, in an official capacity, the joys of female friendship. Leslie set Galentine’s Day as a festival that would fall, each year, on February 13: Valentine’s Day-eve. And she decided that the festivities—though the real point of it all is simply to celebrate the platonic love that exists among ladyfriends—should take the form of the thing that has brought women together for decades: a long and boozy brunch.
As Leslie explained it: “Every February 13, my ladyfriends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.”
Galentine’s Day was, in its initial conception, the character of Leslie Knope, fictional woman, realized in micro-holiday form: insistently earnest, aggressively generous, finding deeply canny methods of ensuring that every social occasion will involve the consuming of waffles.
But Galentine’s Day soon became popular among real-life women, too. The festival, after all, filled a need. It found a market. Like Friendsgiving before it, which was similarly coddled in the crucible of the sitcom, Galentine’s Day acknowledged a broad truth about American life as it’s lived in the early 21st century: Friendships, increasingly, are playing an organizing role in society. Long conceived as side dishes to the main feast—marriage, kids, the nuclear family above all—friendships, more and more, are helping to define people’s sense of themselves in the world. During a time of emergent adulthood and geographic mobility, friendships are lending stability—and meaning—to people’s, and especially young people’s, lives. The deepest friendships are operating not to replace the family unit, certainly, but to complement it.
With Galentine’s Day, Leslie Knope, fan of waffles and Ben Wyatt and Ann Perkins (though definitely not in that order), took all that cultural context and distilled it down into a holiday that, like Friendsgiving and Slapsgiving and Festivus before it, resonated far beyond its fictional world.
It caught on so well that, today, Galentine’s Day is a fairly standard celebration. No longer simply a micro-holiday, in the blink-and-you-miss-it manner of National Pizza Day or International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Leslie Knope’s lark is widely recognized and celebrated in places that are decidedly far from Pawnee, Indiana. Craft breweries have Galentine’s Day parties featuring crafts, beers, and—in a sweet hat-tip to the originator of the holiday—waffles. St. Martin’s press has a new book out for the occasion, BE MY GALENTINE: Celebrating Badass Female Friendship. Mashable recently listed “13 perfect Galentine’s Day gifts for your forever friends.” NPR offered a series of tips about how one might throw one’s own Galentine’s Day party. (The final piece of advice: “While eating waffles and drinking fizzy cocktails, celebrate the women in your life, Knope-style, by sharing with each one in attendance why you treasure her friendship.”)
Galentine’s Day has indeed become so well established that, last week, it earned itself that ultimate mark of cultural affirmation: a think piece, attempting to condemn its entire existence, in the New York Post. (“Ironically,” the story scoffed, “Feb. 13 has long been considered ‘Mistress Day,’ when unfaithful men take out their side chicks, leaving Feb. 14 for wives and girlfriends. Hope no one has any scheduling conflicts.”)
Perhaps the best measure of Galentine’s Day’s staying power, though? The fact that it is being used—as every great American holiday will be, in the end—to sell stuff. The most common criticism of Valentine’s Day, of course, is that it’s a Hallmark holiday. The day conflates romantic love with the plasticine detritus of that affection: expensive flowers, cheekily presented chocolates, chintzy stuffed animals.
So, too, Galentine’s Day, which has been, at this point, thoroughly Hallmarked. #GalentinesDay hashtags have been rampant on Twitter and Instagram in the days preceding February 13, directing people to lady-themed goods on websites and in stores. The site surfandsunshine has a blog post listing 9 Gift Ideas for Galentine’s Day; items for sale include a Ruth Bader Ginsburg mug, a Marie Curie doll, and—hey, Galentines, it’s not too late to buy me my present—a tote bag that dispenses wine.
Even Ivanka Trump has gotten in on the Galentine’s Day action:
Galentine’s Day lives on far beyond social media, though. Target’s site has a dedicated section; as the page’s curators explain, “We love celebrating with our friends (hi, Friendsgiving Edition!), so Galentine’s Day is right up our alley. Inspired by one of our favorite shows, we’re ready to help you and your ladyfriends kick it,Target Finds-style.” The merchandise selected includes some cheeky nods to Parks and Rec—a heart-shaped waffle iron, a milk-frother that could ostensibly be used to make whipped cream—and it is all sold under a beatific image of Leslie and her fellow Pawneeans, surrounded by a semicircle of pink hearts. The image features another message, this one declaring, “our gal-spiration: Parks & Recreation Season 2.” (Click on the image, and you will be led to Target’s sales page for the Parks and Recreation Season 2 DVD set, available for $24.99.)
At Target, some of the Galentine’s stuff is specifically branded as such (the “Be My Galentine” gift bag, for example); most of it, though (the “Hey Girl Hey” iPhone case, the “HELLO BEAUTIFUL” shower curtain, the Russell Stover Champagne Flavored Valentines Chocolate) is more subtly sold under Galentinian auspices. The products revolve around broader cultural ideas about self-love, and self-care, and lady power. And the holiday that they are meant to commemorate has become, in part through those products, thoroughly associated with feminism, and female friendship, and a broader celebration of women and their worth. It is political, in the gentlest and most cheerful of ways. (NPR concluded its piece on the holiday with another Leslie-ism: “I am a goddess, a glorious female warrior.”)
Galentine’s Day is, then, engaging in that most subversive of political activities: It is normalizing itself. The festival is part of the culture at this point, not nearly so widespread as its namesake holiday, but there—distributed, diffuse, and so, so pink—nonetheless. Galentine’s Day pushed back against its counterpart, that romance-happy Hallmark holiday, by specifically taking its shape: It created a celebration that was proudly platonic, but that was also happy to be, in the end, itself a little bit Hallmarked. It recognized that stuff—pink stuff, heart-shaped stuff, silly stuff—can help to solidify celebrations, and social relationships, as part of American culture.
Most of all, though, it insisted that women are awesome, and that a good way of acknowledging that might be to meet up with one’s fellow women and remind them of that fact. And if the reminding includes finding oneself on the receiving end of a wine-dispensing tote bag (which—I cannot stress this highly enough—I currently do not own, and would thoroughly love to possess)? All the better, ladyfriend.