There are some calendar dates that everyone knows - well, almost everyone - which are what I call “universal dates.” My wedding anniversary is March 14th, which is easy to remember in Japanbecause March 14th is a special day here called White Day. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a day for women and girls to give gifts of chocolate and cookies to men and boys. Then one month later, on White Day, the men who received scrumptious gifts in February are expected to reciprocate. Neither White Day nor my wedding anniversary count as a “universal date,” but it got me to thinking about significant dates that enjoy widespread recognition.
It is no surprise that knowledge of universal dates is in fact not universal at all, but culturally-specific. I learned that the day after our anniversary when I pointed out to my wife, Junko, that it was the Ides of March. Junko does not know what the Ides of March means. After explaining the assassination of Julius Caesar to her I felt disappointed that the date still meant nothing to her. Julius Caesar is not as big a name as I was taught in school. (Alas, it’s only the tip of the iceberg of the guff we are showered with throughout our school years. For Asians the big name in the business of conquest is not Caesar, Napoleon or Hitler. It’s Genghis Khan.)
Everyone - well, almost everyone - knows that December 25th is Christmas. (Additionally, everyone - or almost everyone - knows that Jesus Christ was not really born on that date, but rather some time in the spring.) Everyone knows that January 1st is New Year’s Day, February 14th is Valentine’s Day, March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, April 1st is April Fool’s Day, May 1st is May Day and closely related to September 1st, Labor Day. June 15th is when the Magna Carta was signed by King John at Runnymede, July 4th is American Independence Day, July 14th is Bastille Day, and October 31st is Halloween. Similarly, everyone knows that the Spring (Vernal) Equinox is on or about March 20th and that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox (which explains why it is a moveable feast). The Summer Solstice is on or about June 20th, the Autumn Equinox is on or about September 20th and the Winter Solstice is on or about December 20th. Or they should, anyway.