8 Academic Holidays

Happy Bloomsday, everyone! For those of us who aren't hardcore James Joyce fans, today is the day that honors the Irish author (we'll get to that in a second). It's not an official holiday, but that doesn't make it any less serious to those who celebrate it. Here are the details behind Bloomsday and seven other academic holidays you can celebrate.


Bloomsday occurs on June 16th thanks to Joyce's Ulysses, because everything in that 900-page tome happens in Dublin on that day. Festivities often include a full Irish breakfast, people dressed in Edwardian costume, treks around Dublin that trace the steps of Ulysses protagonist Leopold Bloom, and drinking. Lots of drinking. Some serious fans even hold readings of the whole thing. And it's not just Dublin - Szombathely, Hungary, where Leopold Bloom's father was born, holds a celebration every year as well. Trieste, Italy, where the first part of the novel was written, also throws a big party, especially since the Joyce museum opened on - when else? - June 16, 2004. We even get into it here in the States - the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, which is where Joyce's handwritten version of Ulysses now resides, holds an annual street fair with readings of the novel and Irish music and food. Picture from JohnMariani.com.

Mole Day

Just about any kid who took chemistry in high school has participated in a Mole Day or two. To celebrate Avogadro's constant, 6.02×10 to the 23rd power, chemistry teachers across the country make their students roll into school at 6:02 a.m. on October 23 for extra credit. At least, my chemistry teacher did. Avogadro's constant, by the way, defines the number of particles in a mole, hence Mole Day. What you do to celebrate Mole Day really depends on the teacher - it can be anything from creating a poster for Mole Day to consuming a mole of water to creating cheesy mole jokes (Who was Avogadro's favorite character on M*A*S*H*? Father Molecahy, of course). Picture from MoleDay.org.

Towel Day

If you prefer Douglas Adams to James Joyce, you're out of luck for this year - Towel Day, May 25, has already come and gone. Towel Day is a relative newcomer to the academic holiday scene; the first one was celebrated in 2001 just two weeks after Adams died. Why towels? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, states that the towel is the single greatest thing an interstellar hitchhiker can bring with him:

You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

Why May 25? It really has no significance to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The reason seems to be that fans wanted to honor Adams shortly after his death the 25th was chosen because it was exactly two weeks later. The date stuck, but TowelDay.org points out this lovely coincidence - "As the universe that Douglas Adams created was full of absurdity and randomness, it may be a fitting choice after all. And if you need an additional reason: if you add the hexadecimal numbers 25 and 5, and convert the result to decimal, you get 42!" Forty two being the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, of course. Photo from Beny Shlevich.

Pi Day

Every year on March 14, math geeks gather to celebrate everyone's favorite irrational number. And is it simply a coincidence that it's also Albert Einstein's birthday? (Yes. Yes it is.) The first Pi Day was held in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, the brainchild of physicist Larry Shaw. What started as a whimsical party involving fruit pies and a small staff parade is now an internationally-recognized day that is even legally recognized by the House of Representatives. Some people even celebrate Pi Minute - 1:59 p.m. on March 14 - and Pi Second - March 14, 1:59:26 p.m. Some prefer to celebrate Pi Approximation Day instead - July 22, since Pi is about equal to 22/7. March 14 is definitely the more celebrated of the two, though. MIT is known to mail acceptance letters on Pi Day and even David Letterman had savant Daniel Tammet on his show after he recited Pi to more than 22,000 digits. Picture from GJ.

Hobbit Day

If you've read the books or even seen the movies, then you already know Hobbit Day - it's the day both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins were born. That date is September 22, to those of us who aren't fanatics - or is it? Some people dispute the day because Tolkien himself once stated that the Shire Calendar is different than the Gregorian Calendar by at least 10 days (depending on the month). Fans celebrate by having parties in their own Hobbit-holes and the more dedicated fans go barefoot all day.

Tolkien Reading Day

Yeah, Tolkien's so important he gets two days. March 25 is known as Tolkien Reading Day, but it's also the day of the fall of Sauron. The Tolkien Society encourages fans to get together and read out loud while enjoying a hot toasted bun and a warm drink "in hobbitish comfort." Picture from TolkienSociety.org.

Square Root Day

Although this is another mathematical day, it's a bit more rare than the others: it only occurs when the month and day are the square roots of the last two digits of the year. We had one this year - 03/03/09 - but the next one won't happen on the calendar until 04/04/16. In fact, there are only nine of them every century: 01/01/01, 02/02/04, 03/03/09, 04/04/16, 05/05/25, 06/06/36, 07/07/49, 08/08/64 and 09/09/81 (I know, you could have figured that out on your own. The first one was celebrated on September 9, 1981, created by a high school teacher named Ron Gordon. Nearly 28 years later, he still serves as the national publicist for Square Root Day and suggests that people commemorate the occasion by consuming radishes or other root vegetables cut into squares.

Monkey Day

Monkey Day, December 14, was created just nine years ago by art students at Michigan State. It celebrates exactly what it sounds like it celebrates: namely, simians. What is there to celebrate about monkeys, you might ask? Lots, according to the Monkey Day website. There's medical research, animal rights, and that whole evolution thing. But mostly, it's a day to dress up like a monkey, talk like a monkey, and maybe donate some money to your favorite monkey-related charity. And drink, I imagine. Whatever the reason behind El Dia de Mono, it has some pretty powerful fans: Peter Jackson chose the day to release King Kong in 2005. Picture from MonkeyDay.com.

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I don't see Pi day catching on elsewhere, since only in the U.S. (I think) do they write the month before the day MM-DD-YYYY (03.14.whatever) as opposed to DD-MM-YYYY elsewhere (including other English speaking countries). And the universal standard is YYYY-MM-DD, meaning this has zero universal appeal.

Oh, and Hobbit day was already being celebrated - it's called Gay Pride. So put some tassels on those furry feat and march out there, mister, cuz it's coming up!
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