Greensboro’s Ten Best Obscure Holidays…
Celebrated beginning Jan. 30
Any good Catholic ‘— a religion whose adherents glorify a savior who was subjected to a torturous execution and view suffering as holy state ‘—’ should be able to appreciate the emotional tenor of Muharram. According to Islam.com, the holiday marks the death of Hazrat Imam Hussain, considered a martyr by Muslims of the Shia sect. Incidentally, he made his last stand at Karbala in present-day Iraq.
As the website describes it, ‘“On the 10th day of Muharram, large processions are formed and the devoted followers parade the streets holding banners and carrying models of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his followers’…. They show their grief and sorrow by inflicting wounds on their own bodies with sharp metal tied to chain[s] with which they scourge themselves.’”
Celebrated Feb. 20
This one falls about a month before the Spring Equinox, and represents a more proactive version of Groundhog Day. One of our graphic designers, Lisa Ellisor, discovered it in a calendar she had in ninth grade called ‘365 Days to Party.’
‘“You’re supposed to yell, ‘Hoodie-hoo!”” she says, ‘“to scare away all the winter spirits.’”
Falls on Feb. 28 this year
The holiday, also known as ‘Mardi Gras,’ marks the last day of gluttony and debauchery before the onset of Lent, the season of penitence leading up to Easter in the Christian calendar. The holiday also bears a strong African flavor, with carnivales being celebrated in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro and Haiti.
I have an invitation to eat crepes with a friend on Feb. 28, the day she calls ‘Shrove Tuesday.’ It’s a tradition she acquired growing up in France as the child of American expats.
Benito Juarez’s Birthday
Celebrated March 21
Generally known as the Lincoln of Mexico, Benito Juarez was a full-blooded Indian who reportedly spent a period of revolutionary exile working in a cigarette factory in New Orleans. He went on to lead a successful resistance to a some of the major European powers trying to collect on debts through military invasion.
But it’s Juarez’s successor, Porfirio DÃaz, who probably left us with the best quote: ‘“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.’” It’s even closer to the United States now that rural displacement has forced many poor Mexicans to look northward for economic survival. And they are relocating to the Triad in growing numbers.
Celebrated May 1, May 29 and Aug. 28 in the United Kingdom
The Brits have parliamentarian Sir John Lubbock, a 19th century Liberal, to thank for their extra days of recreation. The website for the London borough of Bromley, which claims Lubbock, reports that the parliamentarian’s agenda was to promote the study of sciences in public schools, pay down the national debt more quickly and ‘“to secure some additional holidays and shorten the hours of labour in the shops.’”
According to the often less than authoritative Wikipedia, ‘“Sir John was an enthusiastic supporter of cricket and was firmly of the belief that Bank Employees should have the opportunity to participate and attend matches when they were scheduled.’”
Celebrated July 5
Our publisher, Charles Womack, favors this holiday marking the occasion when the French fashion industry rolled out the bikini swimsuit at a poolside show at the Piscine Molitore in Paris in 1946. The organizers must have seen it as an ingenious marketing concept.
Not surprisingly, the people of Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, whose land was seized by the United States near the end of World War II, observe a different Bikini Day. A website devoted to their holiday explains: ‘“Each year Bikini Day is celebrated by the people of Bikini Atoll to commemorate their movement from their homeland in March of 1946, and also the detonation [of] hydrogen bomb Bravo that irradiated their atoll in March of 1954.’”
Talk Like A Pirate Day
Celebrated Sept. 19
Arrr! The piratese holiday promoted by humor columnist Dave Barry is really pretty self-explanatory, but for those who are interested, the concept emerged from a tennis match.
Founders John Baur and Mark Summers write: ‘“Mark suspects one of us might have been reaching for a low shot that, by pure chance, might have come off the wall at an unusually high rate of speed, and strained something best left unstrained. ‘Arrr!,’ he might have said’…. One thing led to another. ‘That be a fine cannonade,’” one said, to be followed by ‘Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm!””
Eid al Fitr
Celebrated Oct. 23 this year
This feast day could be considered the Muslim answer to Fat Tuesday, although unlike the Christian holiday this one comes at the end of the fasting period of Ramadan. And it’s probably safe to say no Muslims have interpreted the holiday as an occasion for flinging beads at women who consent to bare their chests the way some of their Christian counterparts in the west do on the eve of Lent.
The BBC helpfully reports that the holiday of Eid al Fitr is celebrated with ‘“people visit[ing] each other’s homes and partak[ing] in festive meals with special dishes, beverages and desserts. Children receive gifts and sweets on this happy occasion.’”
Day of the Dead
Celebrated Nov. 2
This is a personal favorite. The Mexican version of the holiday, known as ‘Dia de los Muertos,’ claims both Catholic and Aztec roots. It’s also known as ‘All Souls Day’ ‘— which is celebrated immediately after All Saints Day in the Catholic tradition. Catholics of the old school pray for the souls of the dead in purgatory on Nov. 2. I usually light a candle for my dad, who was killed at the age of 43 in a tractor accident. My dad was a lapsed Catholic and a professed atheist, so rather than worry about his eternal fate I usually summon him as a warm and reassuring presence ‘—’ perhaps in the spirit of ‘Dia de los Muertos.’
I’ve also heard of people setting out coffee to-go cups to honor the New Yorkers killed in the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. I myself set out bowls of rice to remember the Afghanis killed in US air strikes during the military response that followed 9/11.
Celebrated Dec. 26 in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and Jan. 2 in Scotland
Despite what you might have heard, this is not a day set aside for people to gather around their TV sets and celebrate the fine art of pugilism. Boxing Day is also known as ‘The Feast of St. Stephen’ ‘— honoring the first Christian martyr ‘— and some confusion exists concerning its origins. The Department of Canadian Heritage provides this explanation: ‘“The term may come from the opening of church poor boxes that day; maybe from the earthenware boxes with which boy apprentices collected money at the doors of their masters’ clients.’”