For World Beard Day 2012, the four members of The Beards travel to distant lands and look at how different cultures celebrate this age-old tradition. For more information on World Beard Day visit www.worldbeardday.com
While having a beard is obviously ideal in any climate, it made sense to us that the most fervent celebrators of World Beard Day would probably reside in the coldest parts of our planet, where a beard could add warmth to one’s face and joy to one’s heart. Thus, we sent Johann Beardraven south to Antarctica, where we expected he’d find World Beard Day Celebrations in full swing…
World Beard Day in Antarctica
The small plane I have boarded from Hobart isn’t nearly as full of World Beard Day cheer as I might have expected. In fact, I seem to be the only one wearing a World Beard Day t-shirt – most others seem to be scientist types or hard-core snowboarders. Undeterred, I continue waving my World Beard Day flag and chanting “World Beard Day – Woooooooooo!” at the top of my voice until the half a litre of scotch that I chugged pre-flight kicks in and I fall asleep.
When I wake up, the plane has landed and everyone else seems to have left, aside from the plane’s beardless captain who is shaking his head at me – probably upset that I didn’t invite him to the wild World Beard Day party that I am planning for later tonight. While I am wearing only my t-shirt, thongs and my hairy shorts that I fashioned from some beard-like material that I found at Spotlight, I have full confidence that my impressive beard will protect me from whatever the elements may throw my way. So I belt out of the plane, down the stairs and begin running across the ice, waving the flag furiously and screaming “Happy World Beard Day motherfuckerrrrrrrs!” I just start to notice that the large crowd I was anticipating upon my arrival doesn’t seem to exist, when I lose all feeling in my legs, and go crashing face-first into the ice, knocking myself unconscious.
When I come to, I am in some kind of medical facility. A concerned-looking man hovers over me, asking me if I know what day it is. “World Beard Day biiiiiitch!” I yell back enthusiastically. He looks startled, mentions something about finding me a doctor and hurries off. I start to become concerned that the World Beard Day celebrations may have begun without me so I get gingerly to my feet to have a look around. While it appears that I am in some kind of research station, I am soon relieved to find a rather unshaven gentleman walking around. I begin to engage him in an enthusiastic discussion about World Beard Day, however he just stares blankly at me for a while before muttering something about having work to do and scuttles off. Not to be discouraged, I immediately spot a bloke with an even bigger beard, and march right up to him and exclaim my admiration for his facial hair. Rather than thank me, he scowls and mutters something about wishing he could shave it off if he only had access to hot water. I am taken slightly aback.
“Seriously though man”, I say, “how good is having a beard??” Again, just a blank stare.
“Aren’t you that fuckhead who was wearing shorts?” he finally says. I’m sure he couldn’t be talking about me, so I change the subject.
“Happy World Beard Day!” I say.
“Look mate”, he says, “why don’t you just fuck right off.”
Most bearded people living in the world today are free to celebrate World Beard Day without fear of persecution, but there are still some parts of the world where celebrating this tradition is a risk many fear to take. For World Beard Day 2012, Nathaniel Beard travels to China, a country that denies its citizens the right to celebrate World Beard Day as part of an aggressive Government campaign to eradicate Chinese beards altogether.
World Beard Day in China
I’m searching Beijing’s Xi Cheng district for an unassuming noodle house called Bao’s. As I walk through the maze that is Dongshuaifu Hutong, a bustling network of alleys and shopfronts, I am astounded by the total lack of beards here. Not just in this one area, but all throughout the city. In fact, I’ve not seen a single beard since arriving in China three days ago. A grizzled shop-keeper glares at me, stroking his bare face menacingly. I quickly move on. It is the day before World Beard Day, and I’m increasingly feeling that me and my beard are not welcome here. Yesterday I was accosted by a group of police. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but they were yelling at me and frantically pointing to my beard.
Whilst having a beard in China is not illegal, it is actively discouraged by the Government, who regularly release anti-beard propaganda through various state-run newspapers. The Disaster Reduction Press has warned that:
“Beards violate the requirements of hygiene and are not desirable”.
The same article claims that having a beard can lead to baldness. This ludicrous assertion is backed up by the following science:
“Beards inhibit the body’s natural ability to radiate heat. This makes the scalp too hot and affects the functions of the brain. To compensate, the body drops hair from the head.”
A recently-released Government health pamphlet has advised that:
“Wearing any kind of beard or moustache greatly increases the chances of mouth, brain and face cancer.”
These dubious warnings might sound far-fetched, but the Chinese Government are building upon deeply-held superstitions pertaining to facial hair. Wearing a moustache has long been considered bad luck by Chinese custom, with the belief that facial hair can bring misfortune on the family and relatives of the wearer. Because of old beliefs like this, the Communist Party of China have been able to propagate anti-beard sentiments without needing to outlaw beards. But why this government goes to such lengths to keep China clean-chinned is a mystery. One theory is that with most of the world’s razor blades manufactured in China, shaving is good for the nation’s booming economy. Another possibility is that the People’s Liberation Army fear a bearded uprising if the bearded population is significantly increased. But whatever their reasons, the authorities here clearly do not want the people to grow beards, and while having a beard in China is not a crime, celebrating World Beard Day is.
In 2010, the Chinese Government officially banned all celebrations of World Beard Day. The following year, a small group of Chinese beard enthusiasts staging a World Beard Day picnic clashed with police who arrested four people for attempting to subvert the government.
As I continue down the hutong, I come across a tiny red and green shopfront bearing the name ‘Bao’s’. This is the shop I am looking for. Inside the woman behind the counter looks at my beard and nods, leading me through some curtains into the rear of the building. There, around a small table, sits Bao, the shop’s owner, with two older men. Bao is clean-shaven, but one of the other two men has a long, thin moustache and the other sports a full, neat beard. They are his father and his uncle. Since the ban on World Beard Day celebrations came into effect two years ago, Bao risks arrest by secretly staging a private celebration at the back of his shop. I take a seat and accept a cup of tea, preparing myself for a low-key World Beard Day that will hopefully pass by without incident.
Despite having more beards per capita than any other region in the world, the Middle East does not tend to recognise World Beard Day. In fact, World Beard Day is only significantly celebrated by one Middle Eastern country, and they do it differently there than anywhere else in the world. To find out more, John Beardman Jr travels to the State of Kuwait.
World Beard Day in Kuwait
Kuwait City: It’s the night before World Beard Day, which is simply known here as Beard Day. In the week I’ve been here, I’ve been learning about the truly bizarre way in which the people of this tiny country observe this day of bearded togetherness.
Kuwait has one of the world’s smallest Christian populations, so it is not surprising that Christmas is not a particularly major event here. But the locals have adopted many of Christmas’s traditions and incorporated them into their much-loved Beard Day celebrations.
I manoeuvre my way through a bustling shopping mall and witness a throng of people buying last-minute Beard Day gifts for their bearded family members. The tradition is that the family members with beards receive Beard Day presents, whilst the beardless members of the family have to select a much-valued possession and witness its destruction as punishment for being unable or unwilling to grow a proper beard.
As I find a path through the crowd of people, I see a familiar figure. The plump man sits on a throne in the middle of the thoroughfare, wearing a red suit and a white beard. He has a boy on his lap and he seems to be speaking to him quite sternly. Though he resembles Father Christmas, I know that this is Mr. Beard Day. According to local folklore, Mr. Beard Day visits all of the world’s children while they sleep on the night before Beard Day. Mr. Beard Day inspects each child’s face, checking to see if they have grown a full beard. If a child is found to be bearded, he or she will be rewarded with an assortment of gifts. If the child is found to be beardless, Mr. Beard Day leaves the child an extensive list of chores as punishment for their failure. As a proud, bearded man, I have to admit that I prefer this beard-related version of Christmas to the real thing.
On the way back to my hotel, I stop at a public square and listen to the local Kuwaitis who have gathered to sing some traditional Beard Day carols. I sing with them for around an hour. As I turn to leave, I am approached by a bearded man who smiles at me.
“Merry Beard Day!” He says.
It may be celebrated in a strange way, but the Beard Day spirit is alive and well in Kuwait.
John Beardman Jr
World Beard Day is celebrated all over the world as a tribute to bearded people, past and present, for their invaluable contributions to human civilisation. However, nowhere on earth is World Beard Day as important to the political hierarchy and social structure as it is in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Here, World Beard Day marks the changing of the guard, as the highest political position of Grand Chair-Beard is elected. For the past 14 years this election has been dominated by Paolo Suarez, so this year, Facey McStubblington of The Beards travels to Cochabamba to find out more about the process, and Suarez’s stranglehold on the top job.
World Beard Day in Bolivia
Cochabamba: As I step onto the street from the airport terminal I am immediately greeted by a wispy-bearded adolescent who speaks broken English with a heavy lisp.
“Fathey, Fathey, please to come with me?” He says urgently. His beard, as I say, is not much, but a beard is a beard. He ushers me to his Suzuki scooter which is clearly older than he is. As we mount the tired steed we get accosted by nearly 20 people handing us fliers. The young man waves them away and speeds off, but not before one of them manages to slip me one of the fliers. It has a picture of a burly, austere man with a huge beard and reads “Vote 1: Paolo Suarez!”
As we ride through the bustling street markets of the city centre I note the high percentage of bearded people and I smile to myself. My chaperone yells over the wind whistling past my ears, “It ith an honour to have you on the back of my bike Fathey. You and your bearded band are all highly revered here”.
I thank him and say, “I’m here to find out about the Grand Chair-Beard election.”
“Ith not thafe to talk here!” he yells curtly and falls silent again. I enjoy the rest of the ride noting that the only exception to all the “Vote 1: Paolo Suarez!” t-shirts is the occasional band t-shirt that reads “The Beards”. I fondly daydream about moving to Cochabamba.
We arrive at a small hut on the outskirts of the city when, in an attempt to break the silence that had befallen our association 10 minutes earlier I say, “That’s a corker beard on that guy!” showing him the flier I had been given earlier. Without more than a glance at the paper, the young man spits violently on it, smattering spittle on my hand in the process. At this point I decide perhaps silence is more comfortable and I continue following without another word.
He leads me down a long hallway to the back of the house. “I am to bring you to my Thithter – Cochabamba’s thaviour.” He finally speaks. “The man on your flier ith a wery bad man. A wery bad man indeed.”
Although a young man in stature, I can tell he is very passionate from the pain in his eyes.
We stop at the final door in the house. In a poorly lit room decorated in The Beards’ photos and accolades stands a single chair with a small framed young woman with a thick, healthy beard seated in it.
“I’m so glad you have come.” She says.
Stammering in awe of the beautiful bearded woman in front of me I finally ask, “Who are you?”
She stands, inhales deeply and exclaims, “I am Princess Kamille Feldarez, Fifty-eighth generation Cochabamban, daughter of the late King Pablo Feldarez and rightful Grand Chair-Beard of Cochabamba.”
After a pause that was awkward by anyone’s standards I start, “Well it’s nice to…”
“That pamphlet you hold in your hands,” she interrupts, “is a symbol of oppression!”
“But this guy has a great bea…”
“That guy” she breaks in again, “has rigged every election for the past 14 World Beard Days, AND he murdered my bearded father!”
“Surely a beard like this wouldn’t murder another ma…”
“NO!!!” She interjects a third time, but her sheer beauty and beard stifles any objection I’d normally take at the offence. She pauses as a tear wells in her eye. “Beards don’t kill people Mr. McStubblington, people with beards kill people.”
Over the next few hours, Princess Kamille tells of how her father and many others have died at the hands of the “great” Paolo Suarez for the offence of having a superior beard to his. She shows me photos of her father King Pablo Feldarez’s beard which brings tears to my eyes for its beauty. She speaks of how he had trained her and her brother to grow beards in preparation for their eventual reign as the next in line to the throne. Kamille pleads with me to use my influence to advocate for her and her brother’s fight to liberate the larger beards of Cochabamba, so that all may be free to grow large, unrestrained beards for generations to come.
Please vote 1: Princess Kamille Feldarez.