Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

It's World Sceptics Day: here's why I’m sceptical of the growing proliferation of international days

Not all awareness-raising campaigns were made equal

January 13th is International Sceptics Day - it's also International Rubber Duckie Day. Photo: Getty 
January 13th is International Sceptics Day - it's also International Rubber Duckie Day. Photo: Getty 

Did you know it’s World Sceptics Day today? On January 13 every year the world comes together to celebrate critical thinking. It’s also Rubber Duckie Day, Make Your Dream Come True Day and Peach Melba Day.

Tomorrow, it’s Dress Up Your Pet Day.

Let me ask you: since when did the celebration of a bright yellow children’s bath toy become a matter of international – or even national – significance? Why are we subjecting our beloved critters to being dressed up like Yoda and humiliated across social media for the sake of using a trending hashtag? Are all of our dreams really going to come true on the same day we’re stuffing our faces with peach melba?

And, amid all this, we’re being asked to take life with a pinch of cynicism.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for raising awareness of important global issues (like health, poverty and education concerns – not strawberry ice cream, curmudgeons and umbrellas; all topics that are also marked on an annual calendar). But surely, the deluge of these nonsensical days means the important causes get lost in a cacophony of hashtags just like they do every other day?

Looking at the United Nation’s list of 159 international days of observance, there are a lot: on March 21 alone, five separate issues are marked (it’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, World Poetry Day, International Day of Nowruz, World Down Syndrome Day and International Day of Forests). Meanwhile, over the course of June there’s a run of 26 campaigns over 22 days. This year we’ve already seen a new one added, as the first World Braille Day was marked on January 4.

Often, the omissions rather than the additions are more interesting. Cancer and diabetes have their own UN-declared days, and yet heart disease – the leading cause of death in many countries – is missed off the list. There’s a World Tuna Day, but I don’t see anything for the critically endangered Atlantic goliath grouper. French, Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian and Arabic get a day each, but not the 6,000-plus other spoken languages in the world.

But even with the chosen ones, branding is important: I doubt, for example, that the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims got quite the same online reception to World Toilet Day (which, while potentially making people laugh, can effectively let those same gigglers know that billions still don’t have access to hygienic sanitation systems). If getting people talking isn’t the point of it all, then what is?

As for the less-serious additions to our world calendar, much of this is clearly born in marketing firms’ boardrooms (January 13 is also National Sticker Day in the US – dreamt up by StickerGiant, a product label company in Colorado). Clearly, in this era of social media, people and brands are simply scrambling for content. Even my own need for story ideas this morning led me down an internet rabbit hole and into “days of observance” territory. Hence this column.

International Sceptics Day (marked twice a year in fact: it's also observed on October 13) may serve no financial purpose, but its origins are unknown. So I’ve decided it’s a joker who’s got his or her tongue in their cheek, taking a jab at this ever-growing proliferation of absurd observations that serve our never-ending need to celebrate something – anything. Perhaps we just need something to look forward to (less than a month to go until Cream Cheese Brownie Day!).

Unsurprisingly, #ScepticsDay (or #SkepticsDay in the States) has not received the kind of social media attention Dress Up Your Pet Day did. But brands have still managed to find ways to work it into their marketing strategy, as you can see with this tweet in which a restaurant tries to shoehorn the day in, somehow relating it to their 'most delicious' buffet. A stretch, to say the least:

Did anyone else’s eyes just roll?


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Updated: January 13, 2019 03:18 PM