The 1st of September is generally considered the first day of Spring in the Southern Hemisphere. However, dedicating the day to celebrating the coming of spring and the end of winter seems a little cruel to all the Northernites out there who are just entering their long cold winter (especially considering that I’ve already pretty much done exactly that a couple of days ago).
So, rather than discussing the seasons again, lets consider another special reason to celebrate this day – today is International Redhead Day!
People born with red-hair are, in a way, similar to those born left-handed – a genetic minority group with a fierce pride in that unique feature that makes them special and part of an exclusive ‘club’. In fact, the ‘natural redhead club’ is even more exclusive than the lefthanders club, with less than 1% of the world population having naturally red hair. Except for Scotland and Ireland, where more than 1 in 10 people have red hair. Former colonies of the UK are also blessed with a significantly higher than average sprinkling of redheads.
Quite a few redheads may count themselves as part of the super-exclusive intersection of the redhead club and the lefthanders club – apparently, since red hair is a recessive trait, and recessive traits often come in pairs, redheads are more likely than others to be lefthanded!
Redhead Day started in the Netherlands, as a festival called Roodharigendag, that takes place every first weekend in September in the city of Breda. Taking its cue from this event, the celebration of red hair has spread around the world with the 1st Saturday of September becoming an international celebration of the fiery top.
The Dutch Roodharigendag festival is itself a pretty global affair, attracting attendance from over 50 countries. In addition to being a gathering of thousands of people with natural red hair, the festival also celebrates art featuring the colour red, and includes lectures, workshops and demonstrations aimed at red-haired people. And of course many, many photo shoots.
It’s quite interesting that the festival is held in the Netherlands, where less than 2% of the population have red hair. However, it is exactly this fact that resulted in the festival happening in the first place. It was started in 2005 when the Dutch painter Bart Rouwenhorst decided to do 15 paintings of redheads. Knowing how hard it is to find redheads in the Netherlands, he placed an advert in the newspaper, and to his surprise 150 people volunteered. Rather than turning most away, he chose 14 and then organised a group photo of the others and used a chance lottery to select the 15th and final model. This get-together of 150 redhead would-be-models became the first redhead festival. It made headline news in the Dutch national press, and the rest, as they say, is history, with the numbers of attendees increasing exponentially each year.
It is known that red hair is caused by gene mutation – it is a variant of MC1R, or the melacortin-1 receptor. This mutative gene is what’s known as a recessive gene, which means that, for a child to have red hair (s)he has to inherit a copy of the mutated MC1R from each parent. While a reasonable number of people carry a copy of the mutated gene, the chances of two people who carry the same gene, having kids, is quite rare. However, the claim that redheads may become extinct due to this is unfounded. While recessive genes can become rare, they are unlikely to disappear completely, unless some natural disaster causes everyone carrying the gene to die. So even if they may become rarer, there should always be people around who carry the gene, and so redheads should continue to pop up from time to time. As stated in the National Geographic, “while redheads may decline, the potential for red isn’t going away”.
Which I think is a good thing – the world would definitely be a worse place without redheads around to spice things up.
Perhaps we should leave the last word to Mark Twain (himself a redhead), who famously quipped that “while the rest of the human race are descended from monkeys, redheads derive from cats”.
Happy Redhead Day, everyone!