When people talk about putting important dates on the calendar, they’re usually referring to things like national bank holidays, events or anniversaries. In some cases, they might also choose to jot down notes on work project timescales or deadlines, important meetings or staff holidays. Crossing off dates is also popular, even if it’s just to work out how many days you have to endure your colleagues before you go on holiday. There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting excited about important dates – half the excitement is counting down the days, really. If you’re an avid science fiction fan, you’ve got some important dates in May which will feature heavily for you. For reasons not fully understood, the month of May has become your Mecca.
There are two standout sci-fi events that occur each year in May – Towel Day and the much loved May The Fourth, or Star Wars Day. They are both unofficial holidays, celebrated by science fiction fans all around the world. It might sound strange to outsiders, but the genre has always been a very niche club. In a way, sci-fi fans have always been governed by their own rules and standards. The intergalactic adventures of Luke Skywalker & Co. are now well over thirty years old – it makes sense to think that the characters and the franchise would take on a life of their own after so long. As James Bond has become much more than the man that Ian Fleming originally created, the Star Wars franchise has burst through its narrative holdfast and made its way out into the world.
May The Fourth – there are an awful lot of people who aren’t aware of the fact that the term May The Fourth is associated with Margaret Thatcher, or it certainly was to begin with. We know it sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. We don’t want to put a downer on this unofficial holiday for anybody born in the seventies, but the term May The Fourth Be With You was first used in relation to the 1979 British election. After becoming the first woman prime minister of the UK, the Conservative party took out a half page ad in the London Evening News to commemorate Thatcher and her victory. The advertisement read, ‘May The Fourth Be With You Maggie, Congratulations.’
It just goes to show how strong the global influence of the Star Wars franchise has always been. When you’ve got Conservative politicians quoting your films, you know you’ve made an impact. Once diehard Star Wars fans started to get together on the internet, the phenomenon grew at a rapid rate. The concept behind May The Fourth might not have come from George Lucas himself, but it didn’t take the director or his film company long to fully embrace the movement. Plus, it’s a lucky coincidence that the month of May does actually have a lot of significance for fans – all six Star Wars films were released in May and George Lucas was born on May 14th. Last year, Return Of The Jedi celebrated its thirtieth birthday on May 25th.
Towel Day – the fabled Towel Day is a little different and in many ways, a lot more niche now than May The Fourth. Whilst Star Wars Day has become an almost globally recognised phenomenon, Towel Day is only really known to diehard fans of the Douglas Adams classic Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It is celebrated by enthusiasts all over the world on May 25th, by fans who make it a point to carry towels around with them for twenty four hours. If it sounds nonsensical, it’s only because you’re not familiar with the book. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, there’s a whole passage dedicated to the importance of towels. According to Adams himself, it was inspired by similar passage in A Hitchhiker’s Guide To Europe by Ken Welsh.
The unofficial sci-fi holiday was originally created to commemorate Adams’ passing on May 11th 2001. It quickly gained popularity all around the world and in 2012, Huffington Post named it one of the ten most important cult literary traditions. Today, Adams fans from Indonesia to Slovenia eagerly await the one day on which they can reasonably saunter about with a towel on their shoulder. It might not be quite as well known as May The Fourth, but just like Adams himself, Towel Day has a fiercely loyal following. Those who participate are encouraged to upload snaps of their towel and share them with fellow Hitchhiker’s fans throughout the day. In many ways, Towel Day is far more of a cult science fiction holiday than May The Fourth. It is oddly quiet, gentle and genuinely heartfelt – at the very core of this event is a celebration of the man that was Douglas Adams.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)