January Days of Significance (1/12)

(Read time: 8 minutes)

The worlds different cultures and religions represent a foundation which can unite us, and where our history may shape us it also acts as a basis upon which we can learn from and advance upon. Equality is a goal we continually seek and for too long it has not been a privilege experienced by every human. Taking an opportunity to step back to look at the different doors behind which we stand, the different backgrounds from which we come and the different experiences we have shared – will do well to remind us of our past, it will enable us to appreciate our greatest quality of being different to one another and thus hopefully enable positive collective change moving forward.

With this, I want to introduce a new series which compiles a collection of different days of significance from around the world. I would like to point out that the research behind this series has been largely a manual search so please accept my apologies if I have missed anything. Furthermore, these days aren’t static given a large number of culturally significant days are based on lunar and/or solar calendars and thus change from year-to-year. The hope with this series is simple, to allow one another to develop a deeper sense of understanding of us, our past and of each other. I hope you enjoy with this first post on Days of Significance from around the world in January 2021.

Friday 1st January

Sudan, once part of the Egyptian Empire and then administered as a British Colony, commemorates independence from Egypt and Britain on this day.

Saturday 2nd January

Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles (a grouping of 5 islands in the Caribbean Sea comprising of Cayman Island, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico). Haiti occupies the west of Hispaniola where the remainder is occupied by its neighbour the Dominican Republic. During the early 19th century the Haitian Revolution was a fight for independence against French Colonial rule and on Saturday 2nd January, Ancestry Day is a public holiday where Haitians commemorate those who sacrificed their lives during the struggle for independence.

Monday 4th January

Louis Braille (1809 – 1852) lost his sight at the age of 3 due to an accident, he became a successful musician and upon receiving a scholarship, at the age of 10 he attended the National Institute for Blind Children where from 17 he taught. Braille became interested in Charles Barbier’s (1767 – 1841) night writing, Barbier was a French army officer who invented night reading which was a message coded in dots for night-time battle communications. At the age of 15, Braille adapted this system where he was able to create a universal system for reading and writing to be used by those with visual impairments, now known as Braille. Monday 4th January is World Braille day, a day to promote equal opportunities for those with visual impairments and to raise awareness in the importance of Braille.

Monday 4th of January is also Independence Day in Myanmar, a national holiday to celebrate the end of colonial British rule and in the Democratic Republic of Congo it is Martyrs’ Day which is celebrated in remembrance of those who rose up against colonial Belgian rule.

Thursday 7th January

Cambodia was deeply impacted by the Vietnam War, particularly because it borders the southern half of Vietnam which caused its countryside to be bombed heavily by the United States of America. Cumulative interventions into the country led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. According to historical texts, the aim of the Khmer Rouge was to remove any outside Western influence on Cambodia.

This resulted in millions of Cambodians being killed because of starvation, illness, labour or execution because they did not embrace the ideals of the Khmer Rouge. The invasion of the Vietnamese army on 7th January 1979 led to Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge, being overthrown. Thursday 7th January is Victory Over Genocide Day where Cambodians celebrate the end of the Genocide.

Saturday 9th January

During the early 16th Century Panama came under Spanish rule, where in 1821 it became independent from Spain and joined the Gran Colombia (the historical designation for the state, then known simply as Columbia, which consisted of present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela and parts of Peru/Brazil). In 1903 Columbia and Panama disagreed whether permission should be granted to enable the United States of America to build a canal across Panama. Panama became independent of Colombia in 1903 where the Canal was completed in 1914. Over time resentment built that the Canal Zone was under foreign rule and Martyrs’ Day, celebrated on Saturday 9th January marks the anniversary of the riots and eventual sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone.

Monday 11th January

On the second Monday of January, the Japanese celebrate Coming of Age Day or Seijin no Hi. The celebration honours those who will turn 20 during the year and welcomes new adults to society. “The purpose of this holiday is to congratulate and encourage young men and women who attain the legal age of adulthood to fulfil their new-found responsibilities and become self-reliant members of society,” said Masahiko Uchino, of the National Cabinet Office’s holiday section.

Wednesday 13th & 14th January

Maghi is the Punjabi name of the Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti which is celebrated in various parts of India to mark the passing of the winter solstice (the peak of the Earth’s pole being tilted away from the sun) and the resulting start of longer days. The ancient significance of this festival is of the winter crop celebration and in remembrance of Surya, the Sun deity. Nowadays however, an additional aspect of the celebration is one of new beginnings.

The Punjabi celebration of Lohri, Wednesday 13th January, is on the eve of the winter solstice passing, whereas the actual date of Maghi is thus the day after, i.e. Thursday 14th January. Traditionally bonfires were lit where people socialised, sang and danced together as they celebrated the onset of longer days. Depending on the geography the celebration is known differently – in Uttar Pradesh the celebration is known as Kicheri and in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka the celebration is known as Pongal.

Saturday 16th January

The Wai Khru ceremony, which takes place on Saturday 16th January, is a Thai Ritual in which students pay respect to their teachers, this is often done by taking part in a ceremony at their respective schools. During the ceremony they thank their teachers for the knowledge they have received and the gift of learning.

Sunday 17th January

World Religion Day, celebrated on Sunday 17th January, focuses on encouraging individuals to understand and accept people from different faiths across the world. Although initially a Baháʼí observance, that all religions have common features and should be respected, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís announced the institution of World Religion Day in 1949 to recognise the harmony and strength that religions play in unifying the world.

Monday 18th January

Martin Luther King Jr Day, celebrated on Monday 18th January, honours his achievements to end racial segregation. King, awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964, first came to prominence during the bus boycotts by African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Known as one of the most influential African American civil rights leaders, he played an instrumental role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Wednesday 20th January

Bodhi Day remembers the moment when Siddhartha Guatama, founder of Buddhism, attainted enlightenment thus becoming the Buddha. This one moment became the foundation upon which Buddhism has been built and seen by Buddhists as a day of remembrance and meditation, where followers can renew their devotion to Buddhism.

Sikhism is a religion which originated in the Punjab region of India around the 15th Century. Guru Govind Singh Jayanti, is a Sikh festival that honours the birthday of Guru Govind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs. The Sikh community celebrates the day by offering prayers at Gurudwaras (Sikh Temples) and remembering his words.

Wednesday 27th January

The Holocaust, “was the attempt by the Nazis and their collaborators to murder all the Jews in Europe. From the time they assumed power in Germany in 1933, the Nazis used propaganda, persecution, and legislation to deny human and civil rights to German Jews. They used centuries of antisemitism as their foundation … where between 1941 and 1945, six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Their attempt to murder all the Jews in Europe, shook the foundations of civilisation”. Holocaust Memorial Day, is in memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust and in genocides which followed in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda.

Thursday 28th January

Mahayana Buddhism, also known as the Great Vehicle, is the most widespread form of Buddhism today and also acts as an umbrella term for other forms of Buddhism. Thursday 28th January marks the New Year for Mahayana Buddhism where Buddhists celebrate by meditating and reflecting on their year in an attempt to make positive change moving forward over the coming year.

Please here to see the previous post in the series.

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