More Than Just Fireworks: Celebrating 6 National Days

Monday was Australia Day. In India, it was Republic Day. While both are national holidays, the reasons for their celebration couldn't be more different. So how does a country decide which is the day for fireworks, parades, marching bagpipers, and the odd display of nuclear-capable missiles? And why? There are more than 190 countries in the world. We decided to explore the national days of six of them.

1. Australia Day "“ January 26

Like the 13 colonies that formed the United States, the British colonies that were settled on the Australian continent after 1788 didn't originally see themselves as parts of a larger country. But unlike the American colonies and a host of other one-time British possessions, Australia didn't struggle for its independence. Perhaps the absence of that struggle is one reason it took more than 200 years for all the continent's states and territories to agree to celebrate Australia Day together as a public holiday each Jan. 26th.

It was on Jan. 26, 1788, that the Union Jack was first raised in Sydney Cove, as a fleet of 11 convict ships were anchored to begin British colonization of the territory they called New South Wales "“ the eastern half of the continent. By the early 19th century, those convicts and their descendants had begun to celebrate the foundation of Sydney and New South Wales with annual anniversary dinners.

It wasn't until 1818 that the continent was given the name Australia. In 1888, representatives of the five other Australian colonies traveled to Sydney to celebrate the centennial of the colony's founding.

In 1901, the Australian colonies joined as a federation within the British Empire, and there was some jostling over what the national day would be. In Victoria, in southeast Australia and home to the city of Melbourne, an organization called the Australian Natives' Association "“ referring not to the aboriginal peoples of the continent, but to the descendants of the original colonists "“ worked to promote Jan. 26 as the country's national day.

In 1931, Victoria adopted the date as Australia Day, while other states called it Foundation Day. In New South Wales, where the story began, Jan. 26 was Anniversary Day. Still, by 1935, the timing of the celebrations was synchronized. And by 1994 the national celebration of Australia Day was established. The focus of the day was shifted from Sydney, where the nation's story began, to Canberra, the national capital.

2. India: Republic Day "“ January 26

This year the elephants won't be marching in New Delhi. The jewel-laden pachyderms are a beloved part of the Republic Day parade "“ even carrying children who are the recipients of bravery awards. But the defense ministry decided to take the elephants off the invite list after pressure from animal rights activists and because the animals have a tendency of "going slightly berserk," according to a spokesman.

The national day of India, home to one of the world's oldest civilizations, celebrates cutting its last colonial ties on Jan. 26, 1950, after more than a century of British rule. India achieved independence from Britain on Aug. 15, 1947 (marked on calendars as the more minor Independence Day). But it wasn't until three years later that Indians ratified their constitution and inaugurated their first president, replacing Britain's King George VI as head of state.

Jan. 26 already was a significant date in the movement for Indian independence. On that day in 1930, the Indian National Congress symbolically declared independence from Britain. So 20 years later, Jan. 26 was a ready-made date to complete in reality what had begun symbolically.

republicday.jpgRepublic Day is a government-sponsored event that features a military parade down the Rajpath, the ceremonial avenue in New Delhi. In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was guest of honor at the parade, which showcased India's latest military hardware, including nuclear-capable missiles.

Celebrations also include a parade of floats from the various Indian states, folk dancing competitions and displays of Malkhamb, an ancient form of gymnastics involving balancing on a pole.

3. Guyana: Republic Day/Mashramani -- February 23

A South American country that looks to the Caribbean. A diverse population that is 50 percent East Indian, 36 percent black, and 7 percent Amerindian (what Americans call Native American). Guyana uses its national day to build ethnic unity.

Guyana became independent from Great Britain in 1966, but retained nominal ties to the crown. It severed those ties on Feb. 23, 1970, and declared itself a "cooperative republic."

The creators of Guyana's Republic Day looked to Trinidad's Carnival for inspiration, but to give it a local identity they gave it a new name. They settled on Mashramani, popularly called Mash. It's derived from an Arawak (Amerindian) word meaning "celebration after a successful cooperative effort."

In the capital, Georgetown, Mash activities include a Calypso competition, a parade of costumed participants, floats and "towering stacks of speakers that line the streets," according to Guyana by Kirk Smock. There is also an early-morning ceremony, "hoisting the Golden Arrowhead," which refers to Guyana's flag.

Mash has its corporate cheerleaders, and the theme of this year's celebration seems to have been written in Chamber of Commerce boosterese: "One Dream, One Celebration, One Design in 2009."

4. Zimbabwe: Independence Day "“ April 18

No country came out of the colonial period with more promise than Zimbabwe, but that promise has never been realized. The country became independent of white minority rule and British colonialism on April 18, 1980. Ever since, it's been impossible for the southern African nation to win independence from President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's first and only leader, who took a relatively prosperous country with a bright future and has presided over its utter collapse.

Independence Day is celebrated with parades, dancing and singing, political rallies, and fireworks.

At the first Independence Day celebration in 1980, reggae star Bob Marley performed his song "Zimbabwe," as Mugabe and Britain's Prince Charles watched. The performance was interrupted when tear gas began blowing through the stadium where the celebration was being held, as police fought Zimbabweans who had not been invited to the concert, but were trying to enter the stadium.

By 1982, Mugabe was rubbing out his opponents and rigging elections, tactics he continued using through last March's polling, which the opposition won. Nearly a year later, though, after a recount, a run-off and a series of power-sharing negotiations leading to a series of power-sharing compromises, Mugabe is still very much in charge.

Official mismanagement and corruption have led to economic collapse and serious food shortages in Zimbabwe. Schools and hospitals are closed, and a cholera epidemic attests to the breakdown of basic infrastructure. Inflation rages at 321 million percent "“ last year the government issued a 100-billion-Zimbabwe dollar bill. Last week, a 100-trillion-dollar note was introduced.

5. Portugal Day "“ June 10

Portugal has a number of historical dates that could easily qualify as its national day. In picking Dia de Camões, de Portugal e das Comunidades Portuguesas ("Day of Camões, Portugal, and the Portuguese Communities"), the country has chosen to commemorate the death in 1580 of its national poet, Luis de Camões. Camões wrote the epic poem Os Lusíadas (1572), whose central theme is the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama.

In 1580, the year Camões died, Portugal came under the control of Spain. In 1640, Portugal regained its independence, which is celebrated each Dec. 1 as Restoration Day.

Oct. 1 is known Republic Day. It marks the overthrow of the Portuguese monarchy in 1910, and the establishment of republican government.

Republican government didn't necessarily mean democratic government. It was during the long dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar (1932-1968) that June 10 became Portugal's national holiday and the long-dead poet entered the picture. In fascist style, the dictatorship used Camões as a symbol of the Portuguese race, and in 1944 Salazar referred to June 10 as Dia da Raça "“ the "Day of the Portuguese Race."

The dictatorship outlasted Salazar and was finally overthrown in 1974. (April 25 is celebrated as Liberation Day.) Camões then became the centerpiece of the June 10 celebration, which was later broadened to include Portugal itself and the numerous Portuguese communities worldwide.

One hotbed of June 10 festivities is Rhode Island. That small state has the highest percentage of Portuguese-Americans in the United States "“ about 10 percent of the state's population is of Portuguese heritage. In typical American holiday style, when June 10 falls during the week, the celebration is shifted to the weekend to encourage larger crowds. Farther north, a 2001 proclamation declared June 10 as Portugal Day in Canada.

6. Indonesia: Independence Day "“ August 17

World War II was over, although the vanquished Japanese were still nominally in charge, when Indonesian nationalist leader Sukarno read a proclamation of independence on Aug. 17, 1945.

The Dutch, who had ruled what was called the Dutch East Indies for 300 years, were not ready to lose their colony again, after being expelled by the Japanese. Over the next two years, the Dutch fought to suppress Indonesian independence.

bike-ind.jpgBy 1949, negotiations were underway at the Hague, and on Dec. 27, 1949, after a 10-week-long peace conference, Dutch and Indonesian representatives signed an agreement setting up the "United States of Indonesia."

The concept of Indonesia as a nation-state was new. Even the name Indonesia was new. It was created from the Greek Indos meaning Indian and nesos for islands.

Among Independence Day activities are egg-and-spoon and sack races, and panjat pinang, in which a player climbs a greasy pole to get a prize "“ like a bike. Public buildings are dressed in red and white bunting, reflecting the two-stripe Indonesian flag.

In a 2005 visit to Indonesia on the eve of Independence Day, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said the Netherlands now recognized that Indonesian independence occurred on Aug. 17, 1945, when Sukarno read his proclamation.
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These are only thumbnail sketches and they just scratch the surface of these countries' rich history and culture. If you have intimate knowledge of one of these or other national days and how it is celebrated, please tell us more in the comments.

David Holzel has not visited any of these six countries (yet), but really likes the idea of holidays in honor of writers. You can read more of his writing at The Jewish Angle.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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