National Bagelfest Day
annually on July 26th (since 1986)
In 1986, Lender's Bagels opened a bagel factory in Mattoon, Illinois. Multiple sources claim it is the world's largest bagel factory, and the city calls itself the "Bagel Capital of the World." In July of 1986, Murray Lender, then the company spokesman (although no longer its owner as it was sold to Kraft in 1984), held a free bagel breakfast for everyone in Mattoon. In Subsequent years, the day became a multiple day festival called Bagelfest, with music, rides, a parade, a Miss BagelFest Contest, a Bagel Baby Contest, and a bagel breakfast. Murray Lender's first bagel breakfast most likely took place on Saturday, July 26, as National Bagelfest Day is now held on this date, and seems to have sprung from Mattoon's festival.
Bagels date back much further than Bagelfest, but It is unknown exactly how bagels got their start. One story says they were invented in Krakow, Poland, where they appeared in the city's community regulations in 1610. This account says they were given as gifts to women in childbirth. Another story says a Viennese baker created bagels to commemorate the victory of Polish King Jan III Sobieski over the Turks in 1683. This account says the bread was formed into the shape of a "buegel"—or stirrup—because the liberated Austrians had clung to the king's stirrups as he had ridden past.
Bagels became a part of the Polish diet, and then part of the Slavic diet in general. By the mid-nineteenth century, they could be found in London, and they were first mentioned in English print, in 1892, as "beuglich." They likely found their way to the United States via Jewish immigrants from Poland and were eaten by them especially during Sunday breakfasts. They were first mentioned in American print as "bagels" in 1916. The production and sale of bagels became significant in New York City.
The automated production of bagels—which debuted in 1962 at Lender's Bagel Bakery in New Haven, Connecticut—helped popularize them nationally. Bagels were in the ascendancy during the latter end of the twentieth century; sales rose in the 1980s—at the time that Lender opened their Mattoon factory—and doubled by 1993. However, there was a small drop in their popularity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Still, they remain very popular throughout the world, especially in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Bagels are yeast buns made of light or dark flour, with a hole in their middle. They are boiled—although many are now steamed—and then baked, which gives them their taste and characteristics; they are crispy and shiny on the outside, and chewy on the inside. They are dense and heavy, which has earned them the nickname "cement doughnuts."
Two of the most popular varieties of bagels are the Montreal and New York styles. The Montreal has malt and sugar, but no salt; it is boiled in honey-sweetened water, and is always baked in a wood-fired oven. The New York has salt and malt and is boiled in water before being baked in a standard oven. It isn't as sweet as the Montreal, and it has a smaller hole. Plain bagels are the most popular type of bagel, followed by sesame bagels. Other popular types have onion flakes, poppy seeds, or fruit such as blueberries or raisins.
Bagels are traditionally topped with lox or Nova Scotia salmon, oftentimes with cream cheese. Cream cheese can also be spread on bagels on its own, and many other spreads and toppings, such as peanut butter or jam, can be used as well. Bagels are not only eaten for breakfast and can be used to make sandwiches at any time of the day.
How to Observe National Bagelfest Day
Celebrate the day by eating a bagel...or a few bagels. Head out to a bakery or a coffee shop to pick some up, or make your own. Eat them with cream cheese, or get creative with toppings. Use bagels to make a sandwich or to make mini pizzas. There are endless possibilities for the types of bagels you could eat and what you could put on them, so there is no shortage of ways to celebrate the day. The day can also be spent by going to or planning a trip to Bagelfest. On many years it has already taken place by July 26, but it is always held in July, so check to see if you can still catch it.