International Sword Swallowers’ Day

Last Saturday in February

In the category of “Holidays We Are Not Making Up” today is Sword Swallower’s Day. Sword Swallowers’ Association International (SSAI) recognizes “those who can swallow a non-retractible sold steel blade at least two centimeters wide and 38 centimetres long.”

Sword swallowing is not fake or a ‘trick,’ and it’s very dangerous.

We present the case of a 59 year-old man who sustained an esophageal perforation as a result of sword swallowing. An esophagogram established the diagnosis, and surgical repair was attempted. However, 19 days later, a persistent leak and deterioration of the patient’s condition necessitated a transhiatal esophagectomy with a left cervical esophagogastrostomy.

Yard Dog Road Show – Sword Swallower

Seriously, I can’t even finish watching this. In college I knew a guy who could snort spaghetti up his nose and pull it out his mouth. That’s about as much as I can stomach.

I prefer ‘word wallowing.’ Much safer, less throat lacerations.

“Dan Meyer swallowing a sword underwater in a tank of sharks and stingrays.” (Click to enlarge)

Blue Monday, Saddest Day of the Year

3rd Monday in January


Misery is expected to peak today, the third Monday in January being the “most depressing day” of the year.

[Note: you can say things like “is expected to” if one person expects it to be true.]

That one person is Cliff Arnalls of Wales, who created the formula to determine the worst day of the year.

[Note: if I can find someone who agrees with him, I can write: “Researchers agree…”]

The equation is:

[W + (D-d)] x TQ
divided by
M x NA


D = debt

d = amount of January pay check

T = time since Christmas

Q = amount time since failure to quit bad habit

M = motivational levels

NA = the need to take action

(The BBC describes Cliff as a part-time tutor at University of Cardiff in Wales, although one week later MSNBC promoted him to Dr. Arnall, a psychologist specializing in seasonal disorders. Apparently American educational standards are more lax.)

Even though the shortest day of the year is December 21st, the weather continues getting colder throughout the month of January. In fact, in ancient Rome the calendar year originally started in March and ended in December. The months of January and February were just one big amorphous clump of days, as the calendar was used mainly for agricultural purposes and was based on lunar cycles rather than solar.  In the 700s BC January and February were “created” to fill in the gap.

By a couple weeks into the new year the energy of the holidays has long dissipated, folks have failed all or most of their resolutions, and their bank accounts are still empty.

The airlines, however, recognize the date as the time when people are most likely to book a vacation.

“People feel bleak when they have nothing planned, but once they book a holiday they have a goal, they work toward having time off and a relaxing period,” — spokesperson for Porter Novelli, the PR agency for Sky Travel.

I’m buying into the vacation-booking theory, since my folks just booked their vacation last night.

Tips for making it through Blue Monday:

“Have a party and celebrate” – Jack Gilbert, Ontario, Canada

“Exercise and bibliotherapy” — Dr. Alan Cohen, Royal College of General Practioners

“Watch the film ‘The Sound of Music'” — Ketan Shah, Harrow, England

“Move to New Zealand…It’s summer!” – Oliver, Auckland, New Zealand

Thank you, New Zealand, for rubbing that in.

Night of the Radish

Forget everything you know about radishes.

Night of the Radishes is one of the most unique holidays in the Western hemisphere.  It has been celebrated in Oaxaca for hundreds of years, but only became an official holiday in 1897.

Radishes are actually native to China, and were brought to the New World by Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. Two friars encouraged the the townspeople of Oaxaca to cultivate the radishes, and it is believed one of the friars suggested they carve and display the radishes to encourage the locals to buy their produce.

Night of the Radishes

Abet and Aid Punsters Day

November 8

Warning to women who go camping:
Beware of evil intent

If you’re experiencing withdrawal from October holidays, no better way to be Hallowean’ed than by celebrating Abet and Aid Pun Day.

We’ve no clue how this holiday originated or why November 8th is the fortunate day in question. [By coincidence it holds the distinction of falling on the day between Russia’s former Revolution Day—marking the beginning of the Soviet experiment on November 7, 1917—and the fall of the Berlin Wall—marking the end of the experiment on November 9, 1989.] The holiday actually dates all the way back to the 1970’s, though its precise origins are lost to time.

Regardless of how it began, Abet and Aid Punsters Day is a good time to reflect on the holiday headlines of the past year…

Holiday headlines:

Children’s Day:
Kids in trouble for resisting a rest.

Bastille Day:
Celebrants who jumped off Paris bridge declared temporarily in Seine.

Revolution Day:
Army beauty pageant called off. Troops revolting.

Santa’s helpers: deemed Subordinate Clauses.

Holiday predictions:

After eating enough Thanksgiving leftovers, you will quit cold turkey.

If it’s drizzly on December 25th, yule have a merry Christ-mist.

Holiday with the most waves? Flag Day of course!
(Incidentally, Betsy Ross’s first design was decided upon by referendum: the country’s first flag poll!)

Valentine’s Day:
Some girls like roses, all like two lips.

Independence Day:
In July, may the fourth be with you.

Until next year, remember what happened to the holiday calendar thief…
He got twelve months!

[Translator’s note: this page is guaranteed to make no sense in any language but English. (And even then, very little.)]

Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19

When I tell people what I do—write about holidays every day—they inevitably ask, “So, like real holidays? Or, like Talk Like a Pirate Day?

The implication being that the latter is a “made up” holiday.

Which it is.

First of all, all holidays are “made up”. It’s just the ones we take for granted were made up before you were born.

Second, if the age be the sole determiner of legitimacy, Talk Like a Pirate Day is older than other, several nations’ independence days, including Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and East Timor.

Talk Like a Pirate Day was made up by these guys.

Capn Slappy & Ol Chumbucket
Cap'n Slappy & Ol' Chumbucket

So the legend goes…In the mid-1990s, one of the two salty sea-dogs pictured above had a bizarre sports injury that briefly caused him to talk like a pirate. Every year thereafter (except for when they forgot to) they spoke ‘pirate’ for a day–though not on the anniversary of the injury, which was on June 6 (D-Day).

They chose September 19, because it was Cap’n Slappy’s wench’s birthday at the time. Also no doubt because—as I too have discovered—September 19 holiday pickings are slimmer than Panama at high-tide. No offense to St. Kitts and Nevis, which celebrates Independence Day today. But as we’ve covered the Independence Days of 7 other American nations this week (Mexico, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua) I’ve opted to let my hair down, hoist the jib, walk the plank, and do whatever it is that pirates do these days when they’re not illegally downloading software.

But, ahoy, if ye yellow-bellied sapsuckers harbor a tight lip, for fear of soundin’ land-locked, this video surely’ll be fixin’ ta loosen yer tongue.

Me hearty.

How to Talk Pirate

What is a pirate’s favorite sock?


Saint Sithney – Patron Saint of Mad Dogs

August 4

On August 4, Cornwall, England celebrates the Feast Day of Saint Sithney, the patron saint of mad dogs.

Legend has it that the Lord Almighty asked good ol’ Sithney if he would be the patron saint of girls seeking husbands. Sithney politely declined the offer, fearing he would be besieged with prayers for rich hubbies and fancy jewelry and the whatnot. Instead, Sithney said he’d rather be the patron saint of something like mad dogs, and the request was granted.

Saint Roch (Sithney wasn't available for photoshoot)

August 4 is also the birthday of U.S. President Barack Obama. We know when he was born, but where exactly where he was born is at present a topic of heated debate, dominating the media coverage on conservative talk shows. It may be that one day a child will review the historical archives of August 2009 and be surprised that the question of Obama’s citizenship even existed, let alone monopolized the news cycle, between the death of Michael Jackson and the devastation of Hurricane Grace. But until that day, we wish the President good luck in his quest to prove he’s American, and we ask Sithney to hasten his healing efforts on certain unnamed talk show hosts.

Here lies (and cheats) Soapy Smith

July 8

Every July 8th, citizens of Skagway, Alaska, hold a wake for a citizen who died on this day in 1898: Jefferson Randolph ‘Soapy’ Smith, the “king of the frontier confidence men.”

Soapy Smith, 1860-1898
Soapy Smith, 1860-1898

Smith got his nickname Soapy from an old scam he played selling soap to miners in Colorado.

It’s hard to believe someone so concerned about the hygiene of his fellow men could get such a bad rep. But you see, Smith wrapped bars of soap in $20 to $50 bills in front of the miners, then double wrapped those in brown paper, claiming that one in ten bars had been wrapped in money. Miners would pay $5 for a nickel’s worth of soap to try their luck.

Miraculously, no one ever won the big bills. Soapy was a master at sleight-of-hand, a skill he picked up in his teens playing the “shell game” with peas and thimbles in back in Texas.

But it was in Denver that Soapy made his real mark. With his “earnings” he opened a gambling establishment known as the Tivoli Club, and organized a gang of pickpockets, muggers, disbarred lawyers, and bribed politicians.

Soapy was as good with words and he was with his hands. Once when Denver authorities brought him to trial, he explained that the Tivoli Club performed a public service, curing gamblers of their addiction, by ensuring they lost. And the court acquitted him.

When the Klondike Gold Rush began, Soapy made his way up north to Alaska, but he let others do the digging.

Smith opened his own parlor and within a few months the 38 year-old was running the town, with a supporting cast of the unusual suspects.

A typical scam: Smith had a monopoly on the local telegraph and charged $5 to send messages. Only the telegraph wasn’t connected to anything but the wall. (Skagway didn’t get a real telegraph office until 1901.)

His last swindle involved a prospector named John Stewart, who made the mistake of walking into Smith’s Parlor with a bag of $2700 (in 1898 dollars) in gold. When Stewart’s money was stolen by men in Smith’s parlor, Stewart took his cause to anyone who would listen. A group known as the Committee of 101, which had been after Smith for years, held a meeting to stop him for good. Smith tried breaking into the meeting with a Winchester, but was stopped by the city surveyor Frank Reid. A gun battle ensued, and Smith died on the spot, bullet through the heart. Reid died 12 days later.

Though not an official holiday, the traditional toast to Soapy Smith is held by the residents of Skagway—and for some reason at Hollywood’s Magic Castle—at 9:15 pm each July 8th, the approximate time of Smith’s death.

Soapy’s wakes may lack the reverence of others, but as wakes go, it’s supposed to be one hell of a party.


Soapy Smith: Con Man’s Empire –

Soapy Smith’s Soap Box –

Alias Soapy Smith –