If you enjoy all that is weird and wonderful, then International Sword Swallowers Day, which takes place on the last Saturday in February, is the day for you. This year, it will be held on February 24.
Sword swallowers, a.k.a. those guys who pass long, pointy, sharp instruments through their mouths into their stomachs, often don’t get the same level of fame and respect as other entertainers. This holiday was specially created to recognize and appreciate sword swallowers while educating people about their contribution to the world.
This day has another, higher purpose, too — it attempts to eradicate all myths surrounding sword swallowing and bring global attention to how the sword swallowing community has helped both medically and scientifically.
The month of February also plays host to National Swallowing Disorders Month. This initiative was formed to raise money for esophageal cancer research and fund medical treatment of injured sword swallowers.
History of International Sword Swallowers Day
Many moons ago (in 2000 B.C.), fakirs and shaman priests in India developed this art to demonstrate their power and bond with their gods. They also came up with fire-walking on hot coals, snake handling, and other ascetic religious practices.
Originating in India, this practice slowly spread around the world. It was seen during the Teutonic fight for Rome in 410 A.D. In China, around 750 A.D., Festivals around the Roman empire held sword swallowing as a part of the entertainment. By the 8th century, a type of Japanese ‘street theater’ called Sangaku could also trace its origins back to sword-swallowing.
This art form soon made its way to Europe from Rome and Greece, and medieval jongleurs and other street performers would exhibit their skills in this area. While the Catholic Church banned such street performances during the Middle Ages, common folk still enjoyed a good sword-swallowing performance.
By the 1800s, interest in street performances dwindled in Europe, and with it, the interest in sword-swallowing. The end of the 19th century brought sword swallowing to America via the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and a new generation of performers was born.
Around this time, various articles suggest sword swallowers had been instrumental in medical and scientific breakthroughs. First, a Scottish physicist used a sword swallower to study the human digestive system. In 1868, Dr. Adolph Kussmaul reportedly used a sword swallower to invent the endoscope. As the years went by, primary showcases for sword swallowers decreased, sword swallowers in circuses and sideshows became a rare sight.
There are very few sword swallowers practicing their craft in this day and age. According to statistics, most of them hail from the Indian city of Andhra Pradesh, where the knowledge, experience, and practice of sword swallowing is passed down from father to son.
As this art form became a story in history rather than a practiced art form, enthusiasts like Dan Meyer, the president and founder of Sword Swallowers Association International and sword swallower himself, decided things had to change.
Meyer realized that there are national holidays for everyone — mothers, fathers, grandparents — so why not sword swallowers? According to him, very few people realize how much performers put themselves at risk to entertain the masses. So, the S.S.A.I. created International Sword Swallowers Day.
International Sword Swallowers Day timeline
People in the southern parts of India practice sword-swallowing.
“Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” showcases sword swallowers at the Odditorium in Chicago.
Dan Meyer forms an association to preserve the art of sword swallowing.
Meyer and British radiologist Dr. Brian Witcombe co-author a study, ‘Sword Swallowing and its side effects’ for the “British Medical Journal.”
‘Sword Swallowing and its side effects’ gains international attention and wins the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine at Harvard University — an honor given to unusual and thought-provoking research.
Sword Swallowers Association International launches International Sword Swallowers Day, co-sponsored by "Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!"
International Sword Swallowers Day FAQs
Do sword swallowers actually swallow a sword?
Yes, they do. The sword moves from their mouths down to their esophagus and the stomach.
How many sword swallowers are there in the world?
There are about 100 living sword swallowers worldwide.
How long does it take to learn sword swallowing?
According to S.S.A.I., it takes three to 10 years to learn this art. However, some people claim to have mastered it in six months.
International Sword Swallowers Day Activities
Catch a live sword swallowing show
Check out some awesome performances live, like “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!,” which hosts such live shows at many of their Odditoriums. Those with travel restrictions can live-stream these performances.
Go to an event
Sword swallowers gather at countless "Ripley’s Believe It or Not!" museums throughout America on this holiday. You can watch these artists perform in person by visiting a show.
Learn more about this art
Appease your curiosity about how these guys actually do it, bust all your myths, and maybe learn a little about the art itself. You can start with the numerous online resources and articles on the web.
5 Fun Facts About Sword Swallowing
Why use sword swallowers for endoscopy
While inventing the endoscope (which goes inside a body exactly like a sword), researchers felt sword swallower bodies were best able to handle the rigid device without many repercussions.
Organized sword swallowing classes
Coney Island's famous sideshow school, The Coney Island Sideshow School, had sword swallowing classes as a part of their curriculum.
Sword swallowers can't put something down their throats without repercussions — they call the performance-induced irritation of the throat 'sword throat'.
Most swords swallowed
In 2008, Red Stuart swallowed 34 swords at a time, setting a record for most swords swallowed simultaneously.
A sword-swallowing stunt for the ages
Veteran sword swallower Dan Meyer swallowed a sword, then used it to pull a 3700 lb car for the World Sword Swallower's Day 2013.
Why We Love International Sword Swallowers Day
Sword swallowers get some recognition
They put their lives on the (pointy) line just to entertain us; we think that deserves some love, right?
They helped with medicine and science
This just goes to show that absolutely everything is a learning opportunity.
This day satisfies our curiosity
This holiday exists to resolve questions like 'how does it feel to swallow a sword' and 'are there side effects?'
International Sword Swallowers Day dates