It's Re-Birthday: Plant something!

Earth Day is April 22nd. The brainchild of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin), Earth Day was designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for Earth’s environment. It began as an environmental teach-in in 1970 and is now recognized as "teach Earth day" celebrated in many countries every year. "According to Senator Nelson, the moniker "Earth Day" was "an obvious and logical name" suggested by "a number of people" in the fall of 1969, including, he writes, both "a friend of mine who had been in the field of public relations" and "a New York advertising executive," Julian Koenig. April 22 was Koenig's birthday and according to Nelson, as "Earth Day" rhymed with "birthday," the idea came to him easily.” (

Julian Koenig, one of the most infamous Madison Avenue Mad Men, was inducted into The copywriters Hall of Fame in 1966. According to research uncovered by my son, Max, Koenig was the ad guy responsible for the rhyming Burma Shave signs posted on the road and painted onto barns that once ran along Route 66, entertaining travelers while spouting the virtues of a nice, close Burma Shave. These early, amusing, ads have since been replaced by not-so amusing, definitely not scenic billboards--roadside trash. (To think, Earth Day's daddy started the trend.)

So, because April 22nd happened to be Koenig’s birthday, and “earth day rhymes with birthday” and April 22nd became officially known as Earth Day. And maybe because everyone present was imbibing heavily (as, according to the TV series, Mad Men did in those days), and caught up as they were in the excitement of it all, no one bothered to check if April 22nd was already taken. It was taken… April 22nd is, and has been since 1875, National Arbor Day in the United States.

Arbor Day was the brainchild of J. Sterling Morton, ex-Governor of Nebraska. After noticing how the forests were being chopped down, Morton decided to do something about it, so he declared a “Tree Planting Holiday.” He, like my daughter Lexi, like Koenig, must have been of the mind that birthday’s should be holidays because he had also chosen his own birthday, April 22nd, for Arbor Day. That first Arbor Day was held in Nebraska on April 22, 1872.

Arbor Day was traditionally considered a “school childrens' holiday” because it was primarily observed in schools. Students wrote poems, drew pictures, sang tree songs and….planted trees. Fancy that! Arbor Day is held all over the world at different times of the year, depending when the best tree planting time is in that region. If you’d like to read more about Arbor Day check out my book: Arbor Day, Children’s Press, 2003. (Move over, Julian, I can be a Mad Woman.)

After a time, because we Americans love to standardize our holidays, National Arbor Day was moved to the last Friday in April. And then along came Earth Day and, as often happens in our modern world, Arbor Day: a simple, quiet holiday dedicated to gentler pursuits: songs, drawings, poems, gardening, has been usurped by the more commercial, more political, Earth Day.

Today, on April 22nd, 2010, in honor of the 135 anniversary of National Arbor Day and the 30th Anniversary of Earth Day I’d like to propose a change:

Let’s go back to the source of both Arbor Day and Earth Day. Whether they were aware of it or not, J. Sterling Morton and Julian Koenig were onto something: April 22nd is a day for new beginnings. So I propose we change the name of the holiday to Re-Birthday!

Happy Re-Birthday! Revive, Replenish, Restore: Plant Something!