Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Serious or silly, all you have to do is name the day

We may rank lowest in Western Europe for the number of bank holidays writes Nel Staveley, but we are not short of a 'Yorkshire Pudding Day' or worthy fundraising campaigns to fill up our calendar year

Lenny Henry raising money on Red Nose Day

The UK is not awash with bank holidays. There's Christmas, Easter, those two days too close together in May and then the final, panicked summer hurrah in August. And that's pretty much it.

In fact, we have the dubious honour of topping the 'worst bank holiday allowance league' in Western Europe. (For the purposes of jealousy, workers in Cyprus have the most public holidays (15), followed by Malta and Spain (14), Austria and Portugal (13), while the UK – and fellow league losers, Holland – have eight.)

But thankfully, some bright young things in our country's marketing departments have a plan to make it all better by inventing some new official 'national' days – or weeks – we can commemorate instead. Like, say, STI Awareness Day or National Chip Week.

Admittedly, the 'official' terming of these days is quite loose; sadly you will be 'celebrating' them while still in the office and not with a nice day off.

They are also quite liable to change which date they fall on, so they're not really something you can pre-plan.

An example is 'The Most Depressing Day' of the year. Since 2005, when psychologist Cliff Arnall created the now (in)famous equation (1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA), the third Monday of January, aka Blue Monday, has been heralded as the gloomiest of dates.

This equation takes into account the miserable winter weather, post-holiday bills/lack of payday, failed New Year's resolutions, how far we are from the next (actual) bank holiday – all meaning that, come the third Monday of the year, we're all skulking about on the edge of despair.

This year, however, January 6, the day most people returned to work after the festive break, was declared as the true Blue Monday.

Hopefully, you didn't realise you were marking it and the day passed in a pleasant enough manner. But, according to mathematics, that's unlikely.

Yes, despite the lack of actual holiday and the seemingly whimsical date choosing, many of these 'official' days do actually have some serious thought behind them.

And let's not dwell too long on the negatives – what about the more inspirational days?

Before the end of the month, we can enjoy, to varying degrees Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21), Bug Busting Awareness Day (January 31 – and also, if you miss this one, June 15 and October 31).

While the latter may not immediately inspire happy thoughts, these days as a whole do point to something positive: thinking about good things (fictional bears) or achieving good things (busting head lice).

And, however random and contrived the days can feel, is there anything wrong with having set times to try and make us do something proactive and useful? Rather than stumbling along through the year forgetting to look at wildlife or tackle itchy scalps, they're a gentle jolt for us to mix things up a bit and generally get jobs done.

And, yes again, they may not actually be a holiday but they are still, on a basic psychological level, something fun to look forward to and focus on. The feel-good glut of Christmas and New Year has come and gone, January means facing that 'Most Depressing Day' and February normally means snow – but it's okay, you can look forward to the joy that is National Doodle Day on March 7.

It's not all silliness though. A vast majority of these days serve something a lot more meaningful. National Doodle Day, for example, does involve bidding for celebrity doodles and organising mass doodling sessions at school or work – but it's all to raise money for the vital charity Epilepsy Action.

Similarly, there's the hugely successful Red Nose Day (raising money for Comic/Sports Relief). By promoting good causes and being very well marketed, both days have essentially become a formal benchmark in our calendars.

But for every rightful day like these, there is the inevitable flip side; the British Yorkshire Pudding Day or the Dress Up Your Pet Day.

While they do raise a smirk, they don't do much else. They don't raise funds for charity, they don't raise awareness of a crucial issue and they don't really make us achieve anything. They do, however, start to overshadow those 'proper' and useful days and start to make us, the public, automatically equate any 'official' day with being ridiculous. There are even websites now where you can add your own awareness day without, seemingly, much need to back up why or what it all means.

To be honest, though, perhaps it doesn't really matter if we think these dates are nonsense, any quick search of 'silly awareness days' shows the tide is clearly an unstoppable one.

So there's not much left to do except embrace the ones you like the sound of, ignore the rest – and, perhaps, remember the humorous side of it all, on Global Belly Laugh Day (this Friday, apparently).

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