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Culture » Big Shiny Robot!

Nerdy Holidays to You

May the Fourth isn't the only unofficial celebration of pop-culture.



The cultural zeitgeist has always determined the holidays we celebrate. Astrological occurrences and religions began these traditions, leading people to create celebrations and observances of things they believed were most important. In the United States, traditional religious observances have gradually been accompanied by political and secular holidays. We celebrate the Fourth of July for our Independence Day, and Presidents Day to honor those who helped build it. Later, in the 20th century, the success of activists and movements led to things like Labor Day and Martin Luther King Day. Holidays were added to commemorate the end of wars and the service provided by veterans.

As we add each holiday to our calendar, they become a reflection of our culture. But the measuring stick no longer pays attention to country, religion or labor the way it once used to. It seems that the most important aspects of popular culture are the nerdy, esoteric or simply puntastic.

On Pi Day (March 14), we eat pizza and pie to honor the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. In Utah, Pioneer Day honors the founding of the state. But for many non-religious people, it's been morphed into Pie and Beer Day—and, predictably, we use it to gorge on the stuff.

May the Fourth might be one of my favorite nerdy holidays. Born from the pun that makes it sound a little bit like "may the Force be with you," this holiday tributes Star Wars in a variety of ways. Being part of teacher appreciation week, some use it as an excuse to honor Star Wars' lessons and the teachers in their lives using the social media hashtag #TeachMeYouDid. Others use it as a way to encourage volunteerism, asking Star Wars fans to "Serve Like a Jedi." And everyone else just uses it as an excuse to watch Star Wars movies and TV shows.

But this isn't the only nerdy holiday that the calendar brings. On May 25, which this year also marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, we have Towel Day. This holiday comes from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, and began as a commemoration of the author's death in 2001. This is why you'll see really hoopy froods carrying their towels wherever they go to that day.

April 5 celebrates First Contact Day, which acknowledges the first meeting between humans and Vulcans, even though in the Star Trek timeline, that event doesn't happen until 2063. In fact, the entire town of Riverside, Iowa—and Trek fans the world over—celebrate the birth of James T. Kirk on March 22, though he won't be born until 2233.

On July 31, we'll have Harry Potter's birthday celebration. Not so coincidentally, it's also author J.K. Rowling's birthday, and she'll often mark the occasion by dropping new tidbits of information about the Potter canon to fans.

Before the summer concludes, Talk Like a Pirate Day rolls out on Sept. 19. For it, people across the globe dress up like pirates and drop far too many "arrrrs" and "aye mateys." It started as a joke between friends, then became popularized by syndicated columnist Dave Barry in 2002.

After that, it's Back to the Future day on Oct. 21—the day Martin McFly Jr. was scheduled to go, well, back to the future. He traveled to 2015 in the film, and on that exact day, folks went crazy celebrating. USA Today even wrapped the day's edition with a prop replica from the film, Marty's arrest for theft dominating the front page.

When culture is filled with movies, comic books and science fiction, there is no shortage of holidays we can gravitate to. I don't think it'll be much longer before some of them start getting officially recognized. Maybe a 100 years from now, May 4 could be a federal holiday. I mean, assuming we aren't living in camps run by our corporate overlords, which could be a natural consequence after Donald Trump establishes Loyalty Day.