Do you remember where you were on Nov. 11, 2011—11/11/11?
But I’m pretty sure I must’ve been in a slightly better mood than I usually am. Days like today, 10/11/12—that, written out, remind us of familiar patterns—are always moderately nice. There are countdowns (11/10/09), repetitions (7/7/7 was a popular day to get married), inside jokes (Mole Day, 10/23)—they add a little sparkle to the calendar. It’s like the birthday of a friend of a friend, or when a sports team you only sort of like wins a playoff game. When something you had no control over makes you just an infinitesimal amount more content (it’s a bit less significant than a traffic light turning green just in time, or a pretty stranger casually making eye contact), it usually happens to us as individuals. But on days like today, we all get to experience this same subtle uplift at once.
You usually know when a holiday is coming. You must make plans; it might be fun, but there are always drawbacks. Sure, you might get presents on Christmas, but you also have to listen to the news networks relitigate the separation of church and state. The fireworks are great on the Fourth of July, but they come with a debate about what the Founding Fathers Meant For Our Nation To Be. Anniversaries and birthdays are no better. You’re spared the weight of a collective debate about inherited tradition, but wear instead the mantle of aging. You’re older, and you have to either get someone else a present or acknowledge its receipt.
Festivals of Numerical Coincidence sneak up on you. Were you looking forward to today, 10/11/12, a week ago? You had no idea it was coming. Last year’s version, 9/10/11, was inevitably overshadowed by the day it preceded; a rightfully somber day of mourning for what had come before.
I’ve always liked numerical celebrations. They come without tradition or expectation. (Except, that is, for Pi Day, when students and lovers of math eat pie. I have celebrated March 14 with gusto.) There’s no nostalgia weighing you down. It’s just sort of nice, a kind of feng shui of this day, this time, in the larger order.
But, as someone who likes to try and be a citizen of the world, days like today also bother me. Americans are almost alone in expressing our days as month/day/year. (Belize is the only other country I know of that also does this.) Most of the rest of the world goes (logically!) in increasing denominations of time (day/month/year). In those places, today is not so special: 11/10/12. It sounds instead like an awkward day, when you’re shuffling around trying to disguise a pulled muscle in your leg. The rest of the world will have its day on Nov. 10, but then we will be left out.
The orderly folks at the international Organization for Standardization, which is of course in Geneva, are the ones who try to settle such disagreements, but they, with their 8601 Standard, are on another page entirely: They want to go year/month/day, which at least makes today seem like it’s leading up to something good, 12/11/10. There’s less momentum to it that way.
So I must confess to a preference for Numerical Coincidences of Constancy: Dec. 12 is a day to look forward to. On 12/12/12, we can all celebrate together. I’ll bring three dozen donuts to the office—1,728 seems like it’d be a bit too ambitious. After enjoying several of these days, thanks to the turn of the century—the last couple years of 11/11/11 and 10/10/10, and, if you push it, nine more before—most of us won’t live to see another. There won’t be a 13/13/13.
That’s the pleasure of these auspiciously numbered days. Revel in them now, because tomorrow, the calendar will lose its magic again.
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