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National Carnation Day – Facts About Carnations and History of the Day

What do carnations and US presidents have in common? Read our post on National Carnation Day to learn the answer, plus more carnation facts!

Whether you love learning fun facts about history, or you just love how beautiful carnations are, National Carnation Day is for you.

Did you know that National Carnation Day isn’t the only national day dedicated to flowers? There’s also National Orchid Day, and several rose themed days like National Red Rose Day and Rose Day too!

National days of the year are a fun way to celebrate odd and unusual foods, animals and items that you come into contact with. Be sure to check out my national day’s guide for more fun days to celebrate.

Pink carnations on a pink background with a text overlay about National Carnation Day and carnation facts.

What is National Carnation Day?

National Carnation Day, also known as Red Carnation Day is dedicated to remembering the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley.

He was fond of carnations and often wore them in his lapel. We celebrate National Carnation Day on January 29, which was William McKinley’s birthday. 

Drawing of a bouquet of carnations for National Carnation Day.

During the first few years of the holiday, National Carnation Day was celebrated on September 14, the day of his death. William McKinley was killed while in office, and is one of only four US presidents to be assassinated.

As time went on, celebrating National Carnation Day on his death day seemed too grim, so it was changed to be a January 29 national day.

Moving the national day to January is fitting, because the January birth flower is the carnation.

History of National Carnation Day

William McKinley’s love of carnations started in 1876. He ran, as a republican, for a seat in the US House of Representatives. His friend, Levi Lamborn, was his opponent.

Black and white photo of 25th president of the United States, William McKinley to remember him on National Carnation Day.

In addition to being a politician, Lamborn also happened to be an avid horticulturist.

Before the debates, he presented McKinley with a boutonniere of “Lamborn Red” carnations. They were a bright scarlet red strain of carnations that Lamborn created.

McKinley won the election, and from that moment on, he regarded carnations as good luck.

In addition to being elected to the House of Representatives, McKinley was also the governor of Ohio and the 25th president of the United States.

It was said that during his time in the White House he always kept bouquet of carnations in his office. This was due to his belief that carnations were good luck.

William McKinley death

On September 6, 1901, McKinley was greeting his supporters outside a Pan-American Exhibition in New York.

Three red carnations on a white background to remember President William McKinley.

He met a little girl who saw the carnation on his lapel and asked if she could have it. Even though he was not accustomed to taking off his carnations, he gave it to her. 

After greeting a few more people, he came face to face with Leon Czolgosz, who shot President William McKinley several times.

McKinley was taken to the hospital and eventually died eight days later, on September 14, 1901, due to his injury sustained from the shooting.

The Carnation League of America, founded by Lewis G. Reynolds, created National Carnation Day in 1903. The tradition is to honor the day (and William McKinley) by wearing a carnation.

National Carnation Day isn’t the only national day associated with United States presidents. There’s also White House Easter Egg Roll Day, which has ties to many former presidents and first ladies.

Carnation symbolism

Carnations are a symbol for different people, places and dates. Here’s a list of carnation symbolism.

A bouquet of pink carnations to celebrate National Carnation Day.

  • Red carnations are a symbol closely associated with the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley.
  • The January birth flower is the carnation.
  • Carnations come in many colors, and each color has a different meaning. 
  • The traditional flower for first year wedding anniversaries is the carnation.
  • Carnations are the national flower of Spain, Monaco, and Slovenia. They are also the provincial flower of the Balearic Islands.
  • The state flower of Ohio is the red carnation. It is also often referred to as the scarlet carnation.
  • The founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, choose the carnation as the flower to the day, because it was her own mother’s favorite flower!

Carnations are not the only plant with symbolism! Each holiday has different plants associated with it, with special meanings.

For example, three of the symbols of Easter are Easter lilies, the dogwood tree and palm branches. Roses belong to Valentine’s Day, and poinsettias represent Christmas.

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Fun facts about carnations for this January 29 national day

Brush up on your knowledge of carnations for National Carnation Day with these fun facts. Some may surprise you!

A woman's hands holding pink carnations with a text overlay about carnation facts for National Carnation Day.

  • The petals of carnations are edible. They have a very mild flavor, but look beautiful as garnishes on desserts and cocktails!
  • Carnations are thought of as “flowers of the gods” because their scientific name is dianthus caryophyllus. The ancient Greek word “dios” translates to “divine” and “anthos” translates to “flower”, literally translating “dianthus” to “divine flower”.
  • Throughout history carnations were used in ancient Greek and Roman crowns and worn during ceremonies and coronations. This is thought to have led to the flower commonly being called carnations, as the word “carnation” comes from the Latin word “corona-ae” meaning crown. In addition to carnations, crowns also frequently included laurel leaves because of their importance to the Greek god Apollo.
  • An early legend posits that when Diana (goddess of the hunt) was returning from an unsuccessful hunting trip, she saw a shepherd boy playing the flute and blamed him (and the sound of his music) for her bad luck hunting. In the legend, she killed the boy, and red carnations sprung up from where died to represent the innocent blood lost.

How to celebrate National Carnation Day

Would you like to celebrate National Carnation Day in a special way? Try one of these ideas.

Different carnation colors on a blue background, a pink and white carnation is featured.

  • Go to a flower market and purchase a bouquet of carnations to brighten up your home. 
  • Visit the Ohio Statehouse. During National Carnation Day there is a special exhibit honoring William McKinley. Some years, if you wear a carnation, or dress in scarlet, the Ohio statehouse will offer you a discount.
  • Read Levi Lamborn’s book: American Carnation Culture. He is responsible for McKinley’s love of carnations, after all!
  • Plan a trip to one of the places that have carnations as their national flower. You can go to Spain, Monaco or Slovenia – the choice is yours!
  • Read a biography on William McKinley to get to know the man the holiday celebrates.
  • Solve the word search puzzle for January to see if you can find National Carnation Day in it.
  • Spread the word on social media using the hashtag #NationalCarnationDay. Here is a tweet to get you started:
National Carnation Day is about so much more than just beautiful flowers. Head over to Always the Holidays to learn the day's history, and fun facts about carnations. 💐#NationalCarnationDay Share on X

More national days in January

There are close to 2000 national days in the year and over 150 of them are celebrated in January.

To see them all, have a look at this post to discover more about the national days in January.

A graphic that says "Hello January" with January's birth flower the carnation around it.

Is food your thing? Each day of the month has a food or drink associated with it, too. You’ll find all the January food holidays here.

Be sure to also check out these national days this month:

  • Houseplant Appreciation Day – This day is dedicated to houseplants of all varieties. Visit the post for ways to celebrate and helpful houseplant care tips.
  • National Irish Coffee Day – Looking for a cocktail that is equal parts boozy and caffeinated that is full of history? You’re in luck, Irish coffee is the the drink for you!
  • National Handwriting Day – Is it true that you retain more information when you handwrite things, versus when you type them? Check out our post on National Handwriting Day to find out.
  • National Puzzle Day – Do you prefer jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku or word searches? Whatever puzzle you fancy, we have the perfect holiday to celebrate it, National Puzzle Day.
  • National Shortbread Day – One of my favorite treats are shortbread cookies. Head over to our National Shortbread Day post to learn more about the day and get a recipe for this delicious cookie!

Pin this post on National Carnation Day for later

Would you like a reminder of this post for National Carnation Day? Just pin this image to one of your trivia boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Watch our YouTube video to learn about more national days in January.

A photo of red carnations with a text overlay about National Carnation Day and carnation facts.

Jess author photoAbout the author

Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.

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