April marks the date for two days dedicated to the Earth that I'm aware of: Earth Day and Arbor Day. Despite knowing of these days and treating them as days of celebration for the planet, I realized that I'd never looked into their origins before. The only recollection I'd had was for Arbor Day, since I know the first US celebration of the day was founded by the family that started my local arboretum. I figured this would be a good opportunity to look into these origins and maybe learn a bit about how humans celebrated the Earth in the past by way of reserving days of the year for them.
I was a little surprised by the results.
Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970, was the result of a rallying cry for change after a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California on January 28th, 1969. This was one of the largest spills up to that time, spewing more than 3 million gallons of oil in the ocean and surrounding habitats, killing over 10,000 animals in the vicinity. Activists from around the country gathered to fight the disaster both in terms of cleanup and demanding political change. While the proposal for a day to honor the Earth was made in March of 1970, it wasn't made real until April when the then Wisconsin governor, Gaylord Nelson, helped to pass it having seen the damage of the oil spill first hand from an airplane.
While I understand that Earth Day is a day to promote positive ecological activity, I had always assumed it was due to that being a way for us to celebrate the planet. Be kind to our home for the sake of being kind to our home. And, to be fair, I believe that's a core message of Earth Day, to honor our planet and promote peace upon it. I had not known until researching that the day is directly correlated to disaster. That one of the defining days of celebration for our planet did not come about of unprompted love for the environment, but only after great harm was done to it.
Continuing my little adventure, I wanted to learn more about other days humanity has set aside for our planet and the various things that make it our home. Across the world, we have days for celebrating animals, trees, water, wind, and energy. What honestly blew my mind a little is that all but 3 of the days I had learned about were founded AFTER EARTH DAY. The total number of days I found was 122. And of these 119 that were founded after Earth Day, all of them are related to awareness. Awareness for a world generally harmed by humanity.
The 3 established prior to Earth Day are celebratory in nature (no pun intended). One would be Arbor Day, the oldest of the environmental holidays, where the first documented occurrence was in 1594 in Spain. This was really interesting to read about since I'm primarily aware of the US founding of Arbor Day in 1872 by Joy Sterling Morton, the founder of the Morton Arboretum. Second is World Animal Day started in Germany in 1925 by Heinrich Zimmerman. This day found a sizable following in its initial years and was universally accepted as a day of celebration in 1931.
The last is not so much a day initially intended for celebrating nature, but it did eventually become one. Greenery Day is the current name of the day formerly celebrating the birthday of Japanese Emperor Showa. When the next emperor ascended the throne in 1989, the day was renamed to Greenery Day to celebrate the former emperor's love of plants without calling attention to the emperor himself, who was considered controversial by the public. So the day technically existed prior to Earth Day, but its meaning became associated with the planet afterward. That was a fun bit of trivia!
Now, this research is all from a modern societal way of celebrating nature by way of reserved time on a calendar. This, by no means, suggests that humanity has never celebrated nature. There are countless ceremonies from cultures all around the world that incorporate a love and respect of nature. In modern times, our way of doing this is to set aside time to reflect on the topic of the day. It was a bit shocking to see how few of these days were sparked from unprompted care for the planet.
Given our times, however, it's likely a silver lining that these days are ones of preservation, awareness, and action. We live in a time where simply taking in the wonders of our home is tantamount to watching it crumble and being okay with it. Every time one of these days rolls around, as we look at the state of the world, it generally looks a little worse since the prior year, and celebrating just doesn't seem like enough.
Yes, we should always celebrate our home. Take pride in being able to live on a world at all, especially one so full of wonder as ours. But know that, as a part of that celebration, real action does need to be taken, and we can do that. It may be hard to see as individuals, but as humanity we certainly can. Knowing now that we, together, agree on the importance of days like these is hope that we recognize this and we can all move forward from here.
~ And, as always, don't forget to keep wondering ~
List of environmental days referenced from wikipedia:
Kate Wheeling; Max Ufberg (April 18, 2017). "'The Ocean Is Boiling': The Complete Oral History of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill". Pacific Standard. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
"THE ORIGIN OF WORLD ANIMAL DAY" (PDF). Worldanimalday.org.uk. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
"The History of Arbor Day" at the Arbor Day Foundation. Accessed on April 26, 2020.
"'Japan names day after Hirohito". BBC News. 2005-05-13. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
Prismatic Planet wants to get excited for the planet, raise awareness of its inhabitants, and get smarter about Earth.