Archive for November, 2012

International Volunteer Day

International Volunteer Day

When: December 5th

Most people need paying jobs to support their families. But when it comes to supporting others within your own community and beyond, volunteering is what makes the difference. December 5th marks International Volunteer Day, a holiday designated to thank the millions of volunteers across the world. At the same time, the day increases the awareness of volunteer opportunities within several countries with the hopes that more people will sign up and give back to their communities.

Formally referred to as International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, the primary purpose of the day is to encourage volunteer involvement to promote better economic and social policies for everyone. This type of development may be embarked upon at the local level or national level, but many other volunteers also dedicate their talents to international issues, too. Some common issues include gender equality, poverty, child hunger, HIV/AIDS, better education and environmental sustainability.

On December 17, 1985, the United Nations designated December 5th as International Volunteer Day. 1986 was the very first observance of this internationally recognized holiday. Over the last few decades, the holiday has gained increased attention and has further spurred more people to volunteer their time and services to causes around the world.

Sitting right in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this holiday may be overlooked by those who aren’t heavily involved within the volunteering community. Ironically, it is volunteers who make such holidays happen for many people in the world. Their sacrifices are often measured in time by the way of transporting food and spending time with others to prevent isolation during the holidays. Other volunteers donate their own resources to help make the holidays happen, especially for children during Christmas and Chanukah.

Not only does International Volunteer Day recognize the efforts of the world’s volunteers, but those involved in the United Nations Volunteers programs can obtain special recognition on this day. Outstanding volunteers in these programs have a chance to be thanked on a much larger scale. Such volunteers range from trade professionals offering free services to the needy, as well as those who develop new humanity programs.  Through the UN’s Volunteer program, people can dedicate their time to even write, design, coach and manage advocacy teams.

2001 was particularly special in the history of International Volunteer Day. Commonly coined as the “International Year of Volunteers,” United Nations assembly members worked with governments that year by encouraging support and the encouragement of volunteers. Not only were volunteers encouraged to work with national issues, but they also promoted involvement in international affairs. The wide publicity resulted in a significant surge in volunteers across the world, particularly after the U.S. 9/11 attacks.

This holiday is supported in most of the world’s countries, thanks in part to the support of the United Nations. The International Red Cross and the Scouts are also ardent supporters of the holiday. Involvement is most common among adults, but supporters also reach out to the youth during this holiday, too.

While the United Nations supports this day at its headquarters in New York City, people around the world celebrate this day in the form of parades, rallies, competitions and special projects. As many nations are currently at war, volunteers hold a special place in communities across the world. As communities grow stronger and look to reach out to others, International Volunteer Day is expected to become even more prevalent on a global scale.

You may see supporters of International Volunteer Day wearing shirts and hats with a special symbol. The official logo of the holiday is presented with two olive branches shaped in a semi-circle with three “V” symbols in the middle. The V’s are made to represent people holding hands, symbolizing the continued connections between humans across all borders. The name of the holiday is usually written in orange letters behind the branches.

Black Friday

Black Friday

This falls on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, on the fourth Friday in November each year.

Black Friday is a holiday in some states, but often people just take the time off anyway, with some employers giving staff a free day as part of their Thanksgiving leave. Many organizations are shut for the whole weekend, and some public transport schedules may change.

It heralds the start of the annual holiday shopping season, as the first day following the final big holiday before Christmas, and, for the last seven years, has been the busiest shopping day of the year. There is also an online version – Cyber Black Friday.

Virtually all retailers offer goods at discount prices on some items, especially things like toys.

Increasingly, stores are opening their doors to customers before dawn, often as early as 4am, with sale prices and offers to kick-start the season. In fact, in 2011, some retailers took the “early opening” concept to a new extreme by letting shoppers in at midnight for the first time.

In 2012, this was set to increase still further, with some retailers even announcing plans to break with tradition by opening up as early as 8pm or 10pm on Thanksgiving night, creating a “Black Thursday.”

Although historically sale offers have continued into the weekend, in recent years, this has started to drop off as retailers aim to give a greater sense of urgency for their bargains to be snapped up immediately.

Use of the term Black Friday started before the early 1960s, and was first used in Philadelphia. Originally, it described the heavy, disruptive traffic of pedestrians and vehicles which filled the city on the day after Thanksgiving, leaving dark markings on the road. Heavy traffic lasted into the weekend, so that there would also be a “Black Saturday.” (And, in fact, you can still expect congestion.)

In the mid-1970s, “Black Friday” began to be used more widely outside Philadelphia.

There have been past attempts to rename the Day “Big” Friday, but these were not successful.

An alternative explanation for the name is that it marks the point, or day, when retailers start to make a profit on their sales, or be “in the black.”

While Black Friday is traditionally a US occasion, Canadian retailers have created their own version of it to try and stop the increasingly common practise of Canadians crossing the border to take advantage of the lower prices. Canada (and the UK and some other countries) have Boxing Day sales on the day after Christmas which are similar shopping occasions.

In recent years, some of the big web-based retailers including Apple and Amazon, among others, have taken the idea of Black Friday outside North America thanks to the Internet. One study of 500 retailers found in 2011 that Black Friday sales were up nearly a quarter.

Of course, not everyone uses Black Friday to shop! Some people may also use their free day to visit family or friends or have a short vacation.




World Philosophy Day

World Philosophy Day

Since the earliest times, philosophy has inspired new ideas and concepts, with the aim of sparking independence, creativity and original, analytic al thought.

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) established World Philosophy Day in 2002 to encourage philosophical reflection worldwide, and it’s been held on the third Thursday of November every year since then. It is a day that is observed publicly, although it’s not a public holiday anywhere in the world.

The day’s purpose is to encourage people to share their thoughts, look at and discuss new concepts frankly, and to publicly debate and discuss the challenges facing today’s society. It’s also a time to celebrate and share mankind’s philosophical heritage, and for opening your mind to new ideas.

The initiative is widely marked across the world, in countries as diverse as Turkey, Chile, France and Morocco (among others).

UNESCO’s underlying belief is that the sort of analysis and reflection philosophy offers should be present in all disciplines that strive to create a greater understanding of the modern world and its challenges, especially those involving justice and ethics. It argues that ethical judgement is essential to a healthy society.

Events are held at international, national and local level to mark the occasion, and everyone is welcome to participate. Activities include:

  • Philosophy cafes
  • Exhibitions
  • Book fairs
  • Debates, meetings and lectures, sometimes featuring some of the world’s best-known present-day philosophers
  • Global conventions focusing on themes such as the link between culture and education and philosophy.

In 2004, UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura put out a public message about World Philosophy Day to highlight its significance.

He stressed that philosophy provided the conceptual grounding for the values and principles shaping the potential for world peace – democracy, human rights, justice and equality. Reflection on modern society’s problems and still-to-be-answered questions remain at the core of philosophical thinking.

In 2005, the UN’s General Conference underlined the importance of the event, stating: “Philosophy encourages critical and independent thought and can help towards a greater understanding of the world and encourage peace and tolerance.”

In particular, the importance of teaching philosophy globally was highlighted.

In 2012, the tenth World Philosophy Day has the theme “Future Generations.” It’s an appropriate occasion and theme given that 2012 sees the 15th anniversary of UNESCO’s adoption of the Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations. And, 300 years ago, in 1712, the great philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born.

Equally, the interests of younger generations are increasingly being taken into account when sustainable development is being considered.

In Paris, where it is based, UNESCO will organize a series of events on November 14 and 15, including a demonstration of how to teach this subject to schoolchildren.

At the same time, some Parisian school kids will write message for children of their age to see in 50 years’ time, and place them in a time capsule. On November 15, there will be a couple of round table discussion sessions focusing on youth and responsibilities towards future generations.


World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day

Between 1981 and 2007, some 25 million people lost their lives to AIDS. Five years ago, over 33 million people were thought to be living with HIV, and two million died worldwide in the same year, making HIV/AIDS one of the severest epidemics on record.

Observed globally on December 1 every year, although it is not a public holiday, World AIDS Day has become one of the best-known international health days. Its aim is to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, honor and remember those who have died from the disease, and commemorate progress, such as better access to prevention and treatment services.

This day is now the longest-established disease prevention and awareness drives of its kind.

Two public information officers at the Geneva-based World Health Organization first came up with the idea in 1987, and the first World AIDS Day was held on December 1 the following year.

The day was decided because 1988 was election year in the US, and December 1 was long enough after the election but still far enough from the Christmas holiday to secure maximum media coverage.

Since 1996, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has had responsibility for promoting and planning the day. In 1997, the World AIDS Campaign, now an independent organization in its own right, was created to concentrate on education, prevention and communication all year round, rather than focusing on a single day.

Since 2008, the campaign’s Global Steering Committee has chosen the day’s theme, following extensive and wide-ranging consultation. Themes may run for one year or longer.

Past ones have included youth, children and women and girls living with AIDS, stigma and discrimination, along with human rights. Between 2005 and 2008, the theme was Stop AIDS – Keep the Promise, to urge leaders to meet their commitment to universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support.

In 2012, the theme focuses on Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation. Overarching that, between 2011-2015, World AIDS Days will take the banner “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths”.

Some countries hold AIDS Awareness Months, often in December, to coincide with the day.

The president of the United States issues a proclamation every World Aids Day, and, in recent years, both the current and past popes have sent patients and doctors special messages.

Since 2007, World AIDS Day has been marked in Washington with a huge ribbon displayed on the North Portico of the White House.

Events are held across the world on December 1, often to honor someone who has died from an AIDS-related condition. For instance, the AIDS Memorial Quilt project has panels made by friends and relatives of someone who has lost their life to the disease, and the quilt is exhibited across the US.

It’s also a day when many people choose to wear a red ribbon, one of the most widely recognised HIV/AIDS symbols.  Originally designed as a badge, the ribbon is now often worn in many different ways.