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Counting down the days: UN’s 218 international days explained

Right now, the UN observes 218 international days (and counting)!

The tradition started long before the UN’s inception in 1945, but it didn’t take long for the Organization and its growing membership to embrace designated days as a powerful advocacy tool.

Check out this classic video from 2017 on the occasion of the International Day of Happiness, celebrated on 20 March:

Who picks the days?

One of the first designations came from the UN General Assembly’s declaration in 1947 that 24 October should be celebrated as United Nations Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter that founded the Organization.

Since then, UN Member States have proposed more than 200 designations, presenting draft resolutions to the General Assembly so the entire membership, representing 193 nations, can vote.

UN Member States celebrate the first World Football Day at UN Headquarters in New York.
UN Photo/Manuel Elías

UN Member States celebrate the first World Football Day at UN Headquarters in New York.

Other UN specialised agencies have also made designations, like World AIDS Day, declared by World Health Organization (WHO) members and marked annually on 1 December to bring people together around the world to demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic.

The Assembly has created the majority of global observances, declaring them with a two-thirds majority vote in favour of resolutions outlining the reasoning behind each day.

What are the newest days?

The world body declared its latest global day just last month. It unanimously adopted a resolution proclaiming 25 May World Football Day, as 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the first international football tournament in history with the representation of all regions as part of the 1924 Summer Olympic Games, held in Paris.

Celebrations kicked off at UN Headquarters, where UN Member States held a special meeting on the occasion.

That took place a day after another new designation marked its first observance on 24 May 2024. International Day of the Markhor celebrates the iconic and ecologically significant species found across mountain ranges from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan.

On 24 May 2024, the world observed the first ever International Day of the Markhor.
Unsplash/Andrey Sokolov

On 24 May 2024, the world observed the first ever International Day of the Markhor.

Making rare exceptions

Sometimes there are exceptions.

In 1971, then UN Secretary-General U Thant declared 22 April as the world’s first Earth Day.

But, it took the General Assembly 38 years to catch up on declaring a global environment day.

Watch UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive episode on the UN chief’s Earth Day declaration in 1971 below:

In 2009, UN Member States designated 5 June as World Environment Day.

That global designation has since become the planet’s largest ecology-focused day, observed around the world annually.

Check out this year’s call to join #GenerationRestoration to celebrate the day below:

Doubling up on days

Over the decades, the calendar has gotten a little crowded.

That’s why some days share. On 5 June, while the world commemorates ecology, it will also observe the International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

One of the busiest days is 21 March, which UN Member States have designated as the start of the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples Struggling against Racism and Racial Discrimination as well as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, International Day of Nowruz and World Down Syndrome Day.

There was also room on the calendar on 21 March for World Poetry Day, declared so by the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) membership.

Watch this epic UN Video episode from its Stories from the UN Archive collection, when United States poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou read The Human Family at the UN in 1996:

Spotlighting global issues

International days can mobilise political will and resources to address global problems while celebrating and reinforcing human achievement.

By creating special observances, the UN promotes global awareness and action on these issues.

Most importantly, governments, civil society, the public and private sectors, schools, universities and citizens can make an international day a springboard for awareness raising.

‘Make every day Mandela Day’

The UN sees international days as occasions to educate the general public on issues of concern or mark a significant day or figure in history.

That was the case with Nelson Mandela International Day. Celebrated annually on 18 July, the birthday of the late first democratically elected President of South Africa, who fought against apartheid and won after being jailed for 27 years for championing civil rights.

Watch the UN’s message on the first ever Mandela Day in 2010:

What year is this?

The UN also observes designated weeks, years and decades, each with a theme or topic.

We are now half way into the Year of the Camelids, those dependable dromedaries that the UN has counted on for decades to bring lifesaving assistance to remote communities and peacekeepers to their missions.

The UN General Assembly declared 2024 the year of these heroes of the deserts and highlands.

Why? From alpacas to Bactrian camels, dromedaries, guanacos, llamas, and vicuñas, camelids contribute to food security, nutrition and economic growth as well as holding strong cultural and social significance for communities across the world.

Camelids also play a key role in the culture, economy, food security and livelihoods of communities in Andean highlands and in the arid and semi-arid lands in Africa and Asia, including Indigenous peoples.

Plus, they are just simply adorable.

What’s the world commemorating this week?

Find out all the UN’s days and weeks observed through the year here.

A school of Trevally fish in the Solomon Islands.
Coral Reef Image Bank/Tracey Jen

A school of Trevally fish in the Solomon Islands.

Click on the links below to find out about each day’s origin and activities happening around the world this week and stay tuned to UN News:

  • Global Day of Parents, 1 June
  • World Bicycle Day 3 June
  • International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression 4 June
  • World Environment Day 5 June
  • International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing 5 June
  • Russian Language Day 6 June
  • World Food Safety Day 7 June
  • World Oceans Day 8 June

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