May 25, 2020 is a busy day. In the USA it’s Memorial Day. the holiday formerly known as Decoration Day, when we honor those of the US military who have given their life in service to their country. To Terry Pratchett fans, today is the Glorious Twenty-Fifth of May when fans of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels wear a sprig of lilac in honor of Sir Terry. It is also Towel Day, when fans of the late Douglas Adams celebrate his life and literature by proving they know where their towels are by carrying one in public.

Mos Def, as Ford Prefect, always knew where his towel was. {image via Touchstone Pictures}

According to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)—?Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Since 2001, May 25 has been celebrated as Towel Day by science fiction fans world wide.

Sir Terry Pratchett (1948 – 2015)

Perhaps not coincidentally, May 25 has been honored as Geek Pride Day since 2006. The holiday started in Spain, then spread across Europe and to North and South America. In Spanish speaking countries it is called Dia de Orgullo Friki (Day of Freaky Pride).

So as your mundane neighbors grill a hamburger, munch on potato chips, and sip pink lemonade, today is a day for us to let our Geek flags proudly fly. Listen to Krypton Radio, sing your favorite filksongs, reread your favorite Pratchett or Adams books (outside in the sunshine – enjoy this gorgeous weather), fasten a sprig of lilac or a sprig of celery to your shirt, and keep your towel handy.

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