Lost in the festivities commemorating Canada Day (July 1st), the Fourth of July, and Bastille Day (July 14th) has been the first celebration of what could become the world’s pre-eminent non-denominational holiday. It doesn’t yet have the traditions behind the aforementioned national independence days, but there may not have been a more important day this year than July 18th, the first-ever Nelson Mandela Day.
Held on Mr. Mandela’s birthday, Nelson Mandela Day is the initiative of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and 46664, the not-for-profit campaign named after Mandela’s prison number, which effectively served as his name for 27 years. But the day isn’t simply a celebration of Mr. Mandela’s struggles and accomplishments. Its organizers are looking to make the new holiday an international day of empowerment through which people can address compelling issues like human rights and civil liberties, hunger, education, health, social enterprise, and the environment. With a series of events that led up to Mr. Mandela’s receiving the Arthur Ashe Award at this year’s ESPY Awards for contributions transcending sports, the world is suddenly hearing a lot more about Nelson Mandela Day.
Leading up to next summer’s historic FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted by South Africa, last week saw a number of events looking to not simply publicize this new special day, but empower the world’s citizenry. President Bill Clinton hosted a gala dinner while the city of New York held a series of volunteering initiatives, culminating on the 18th in a special concert at Radio City Music Hall that featured artists including Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, and Wyclef Jean. Considering the incredible rise in importance surrounding America’s commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, this international celebration of the soon-to-be 91-year-old former South African President could become something very special.