TORONTO — So, the New Year is upon us, and that means a pristine new calendar with all those blank squares just waiting to be filled.
But while scribbling in those dates of celebration (Susie’s birthday) or more mundane reminders (get oil changed), consider this: there’s hardly a day out of the whole 365, it seems, that hasn’t been proclaimed “special” in some way, by someone, somewhere.
From World Day of Peace (Jan. 1) to World Sparrow Day (March 20) to Darwin Day (his birthday, Feb. 12) and Autistic Pride Day (June 18), the calendar is littered with celebrations and fundraising opportunities for a seemingly endless list of interests and causes.
So just how do these days come about? And who decides that a certain 24-hour block of time becomes an annual day to remember?
Well, that depends.
The United Nations has designated a slew of days throughout the year as worthy of note. Any day on the UN’s list has come about by resolution, typically introduced by a member country or group of countries and presented to the General Assembly, says Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the office of the Secretary General.
The new year starts out on a bit of a sombre note, with Jan. 27 set aside for the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Aug. 29 is International Day Against Nuclear Tests, Sept. 16 has been declared International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer and Dec. 9 helps close out the year with International Anti-Corruption Day.
And then there are myriad days declared by UN bodies like the World Health Organization and UNESCO, among them World Poetry Day (March 21), World Migratory Bird Day (May 12-13), and World Teachers’ Day (Oct. 5).
One of the bright spots on the calendar falls on March 20, with the UN’s International Day of Happiness. Some dates end up getting celebrated just because someone thought it would be a cool idea — and the concept spread. That’s the case with Pi Day, which commemorates the mathematical constant 3.14 (ad infinitum) on March 14 (3/14).
Pick a topic and there is probably a date to immortalize it, no matter how off-beat or quirky. Take, for instance, World Day of Snowman (Jan. 18), Ballpoint Pen Day (June 10) and — wait for it — International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19).
Then there’s Blasphemy Day (Sept. 30), which isn’t — as it sounds — about people going around insulting God or showing irreverence for sacred practices.
In fact, Blasphemy Day is intended to support freedom of expression by encouraging individuals to openly criticize religion without fear of reprisal — a right not afforded people in many parts of the world.
The day was proclaimed by the U.S.-based Center for Inquiry in 2009 to coincide with the anniversary of a Danish newspaper’s publication of satirical drawings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Those cartoons set off a firestorm of protests among Muslims worldwide, leading to widespread violence.
The name was changed a year later to International Blasphemy Rights Day. “What we’re saying is people should have the right, if they so choose, to express themselves even with satire, mockery or, yes, blasphemy,” said Justin Trottier of Toronto, founder of the Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Haq of the UN says the names of some days may seem humorous at first glance, but they can represent serious issues with widespread implications.
“For example, some of the days people think are somewhat worthy of jokes, like World Toilet Day. People tend to mock that,” he says.
“But in different Third World countries, it’s actually an occasion which can allow us both to educate people about the importance of sanitation and clean water, which is a very important health issue.
“Also it can help get different governments to make more commitments to improve their own sorts of infrastructure and provision of sanitation, so that you have a little bit of an impetus for things that otherwise would be forgotten.”
The UN has also christened 2013 as the International Year of Water Co-operation and of Quinoa — the latter a shout-out to the contribution the super-nutritious seed makes to world food stores.
“It’s designed both to build appreciation for that, but also to inaugurate a range of projects that can help to ensure that quinoa cultivation is encouraged in the nations that produce it,” explains Haq.
© Copyright 2013