Why Do We Celebrate National Popcorn Day?
PUBLISHED: Monday, February 8, 2021

Why Do We Celebrate National Popcorn Day? 

Every January 19th we take pause to honor and remember one of our nation’s most important culinary cornerstones—popcorn. Indeed, National Popcorn Day is an important time to reflect on the storied history of popcorn in America, all the way from it’s beginnings with indigenous Americans to it’s modern existence as a giant of the concessions industry. We hail popcorn as the…

Okay, it’s popcorn. We probably don’t need the overly serious tone and language full of pomp and circumstance, but January 19th really is National Popcorn Day! It officially joined our calendars in 2014 and has proven to be one of the more popular “minor” holidays across the nation, with countless local movie theaters, sporting and concert venues, and even some restaurants offering free or reduced-price popcorn to patrons. But why do we bother celebrating popcorn? Even among the lesser-known or recognized holidays, popcorn seems like a bland inspiration for a holiday—and that’s compared “holidays” like Dress Up Your Pet Day and Have a Bad Day Day. So why do we bother?

Well, one answer could be that popcorn does have historic significance in the Americas. We’ve detailed some of that history in previous entries, but in brief summation: indigenous Americans are believed to have “discovered” and enjoyed a form of popcorn long before the arrival of European colonists, it’s the snack most associated with modern pastimes like sporting events and movies, and it may have helped save the lives and livelihoods of some Americans during the Great Depression. That’s a fairly notable set of accomplishments for exploded pieces of starch seasoned with salt and butter or caramel. Frankly, it’s impressive enough to warrant the holiday.

On the other hand, it could be argued that we celebrate popcorn because it’s a handy and eminently tasty shorthand for all corn products, which are a staple of the American diet and economy. We’re the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn, outstripping China by more than 100 million metric tons per year despite having less relative farmland to devote to the crop. High-fructose corn syrup is one of the most prominent sweeteners used in processed foods, and Americans are among the world’s leading consumers of it. We even eat and sell more popcorn than any other nation in the world (although the global market is growing somewhat aggressively). The point is that corn is integral to our economy and way of life. That also makes it worthy of celebration, even if we focus our adoration on one specific product that’s symbolic of all other corn varieties.

Whatever the reason that we celebrate, it’s obvious that popcorn has earned its place in the light. It’s been a stalwart snack and commodity for us through good times and bad, and it looks like that train won’t be stopping anytime soon. Corn comes through for us and our nation so regularly that we barely even notice, except for maybe one day a year.