HAMMOND — People from all across Indiana have been buying 219 Day T-shirts, a celebration of all things Region coming Friday at the Hammond Civic Center.
It’s Feb. 19, or 2/19, which just so happens to be Northwest Indiana’s area code and is now also a wacky holiday in the lighthearted vein of Pierogi Fest.
Hammond is throwing a party for the whole Region at 5 p.m. Friday at the Civic Center, 825 Sohl Ave. It’s 21-and-over since more than a half-dozen craft breweries, including 18th Street Brewery and 3 Floyds Brewing, will be on hand, but families from across Northwest Indiana will be able to enjoy a fireworks show Krazy Kaplans will stage at around 8 p.m.
What, after all, could be more Region than setting off fireworks whenever?
“It’ll be a winter Fourth of July,” Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said.
The fireworks display will be right before the main act, Dick Diamond and the Dusters, takes the stage.
“All night there will be a lot of wackiness, including the rat pinata, much to some people’s chagrin,” McDermott said. “There’ll be a beanbag toss, comedians and great food.”
Thousands are expected to attend the event, which will feature an outdoor bonfire, temporary tattoos, the South Shore Roller Girls and favorite Region eats like State Line Pizza, Zel’s Roast Beef and Freddy’s Steak House. There will be free shuttles from the South Shore Line.
Twitter humorist Region Rat Rants invented the holiday, which originally started as an occasion for Region jokes like the official 219 Blizzard is “Gyro-flavor ice cream with Polish Sausage sprinkles.” Region Rat Rants, which has nearly 6,000 followers, has been relentlessly promoting the event with Tweets like “stock up the booze and hide your daughters – (Gary RailCats mascot) Rusty is attending.”
“We think it’s going to be huge, like Festival of the Lakes,” McDermott said. “We’re throwing a Region party, and it’s inexpensive. You only pay $12 for a T-shirt and for whatever you eat or drink. There’s no charge to get in and no charge for parking.”
The use of a rat logo in 219 Day promotional materials and jokes about Region stereotypes has drawn criticism from some who say the Region should try to present itself in a better light. The South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau even dropped its sponsorship.
More than 30 others, including The Times Media Co., have signed on as sponsors. McDermott said it’s all in good fun and in keeping with the Region tradition of self-deprecating humor. While people have tried to come up with new nicknames like “Regionite” over the years, many consider being a Region Rat a badge of honor.
“It’s comparable to Pierogi Fest since it’s funny, it’s making fun of ourselves,” McDermott said. “I’m going to be wearing a sleeveless tuxedo with a tuxedo hat and my arms covered in fake tattoos. It’s that kind of making fun of ourselves. ... I’m proud to be from Northwest Indiana, and people are proud to live here.”