World Circus Day is celebrated on April 17 every year all around the world. This holiday is created to shine a spotlight on circus creators, performers, and artists. As one of the most popular and universal forms of entertainment, circus art is brought to the forefront to create awareness for everyone involved in the industry. This day is dedicated to emphasizing their craft, talents, and skills. It also helps them raise funds, attract audiences, and enter the zeitgeist of the entertainment scene. From veteran performers to up-and-coming artists, this day is dedicated to their hard work and dedication. Circus art is not as easy as it looks — it takes years of training and perseverance to achieve mastery. Today, we celebrate them and their contributions to the arts.
History of World Circus Day
While the origin of the circus remains unclear, historians believe that the first circus acts began in Ancient Rome. The circus is the first form of public entertainment where men and women weren’t separated. The Circus Maximus was the first circus arena built in Ancient Rome, in the Old Kingdom era. It could fit at least 250,000 spectators per show. Some of the renowned circus arenas of the Roman era include Circus Neronis, Circus Flaminius, and Circus of Maxentius.
The start of the modern circus era began in the 18th century when Philip Astley opened an amphitheater in Lambeth, London. He pioneered horse riding tricks as a form of entertainment in front of a public audience. He initially called this performance arena ‘Circle’ but the term evolved and later on became prominently known as ‘Circus.’ The first mainstream clown was Joseph Grimaldi in 1781. He was well-known for his role as Little Clown in his shows — “The Triumph of Mirth” or “Harlequin’s Wedding.” Later on, Astley exported his circus to France and was able to build 18 more all across Europe.
The first modern circus in the United States was founded by John Bill Ricketts on April 3, 1793. Known as the Circus of Pepin and Breschard, his circus group traveled from Montreal to Havana in the early 19th century. Joshua Purdy was the first one to introduce a large tent as a staple venue for circus acts in 1835. It was brought to England by Thomas Taplin Cooke in 1835, since it was a lot more practical, flexible, and allowed audiences to gather in a wide-open space.
Contemporary circuses skyrocketed in the 1970s all across Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. This type of circus combined theater, stunts, and traditional circus acts to tell a story. This heavily influenced the circus we all know today. But it was in 2010 when Princess Stéphanie of Monaco publicized the art of circus as a shared cultural heritage, declaring April 17 as World Circus Day.
World Circus Day timeline
Philip Astley builds an amphitheater called ‘Circle’ —and is later renamed ‘Circu’” — for horse riding trick performances in front of an audience.
Joseph Grimaldi performs his role as Little Clown in his show “The Triumph of Mirth”, or Harlequin's Wedding.”
John Bill Ricketts forms the group, the Circus of Pepin and Breschard.
Joshua Purdy introduces a large tent as a standard venue for circus performances.
The era of contemporary circus introduces theater, stunts, and traditional circus arts as a tool for storytelling and theme presentations.
World Circus Day FAQs
How long does a circus last?
A circus show typically lasts an average of 2.5 hours.
Is circus an art form?
Yes, it is considered a form of performance art. It requires a specific skill set and immense discipline to master the acts that performers showcase.
Why don't people wear green in the circus ring?
According to circus superstition, it’s unlucky to wear green in the ring.
World Circus Day Activities
Attend the Folklife Festival
If you’re from the United States, one of the biggest festivals celebrating World Circus Day is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival”= in Washington D.C. Enjoy a wild and entertaining program filled with circus arts and stunt showcases with your friends and family.
Join fundraising events
There’s nothing better than showing your support to these circus professionals by supporting their charitable causes. The Central Ring Fundraiser is an annual gala event that is committed to raising money for students’ training and scholarship programs.
Travel to Catalonia
One of the biggest World Circus Day celebrations takes place in Catalonia, Spain. A total of 50 shows are usually held in Sabadell, Tiana, Berga, Barcelona, Mataró, and other Catalonian cities.
5 Surprising Facts About The Circus
Juggling started in ancient civilizations
Juggling — one of the most common circus tricks — started with the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
Circo Atayde is the oldest-running circus
Circo Atayde was founded on August 26, 1888, and is still run today by the same Atayde family.
Never whistle and eat peanuts backstage
One of the traditions that circus performers follow is to never whistle or eat peanuts backstage as these are considered to be bad luck.
England banned the use of wild animals
In 2015, England passed a law that prohibited the use of wild animals in any circus acts.
Elephants’ tail hair for good luck
It’s a superstition that all circus performers carrying hair from an elephant’s tail in their pockets during performances will have good luck.
Why We Love World Circus Day
It unites the circus industry
The circus industry is large yet scattered all over the world. World Circus Day celebration unites them in a shared space where different circus communities from all over the world come together.
It positions the circus as a legitimate art form
While it has been long-existing as a form of entertainment, not many people know the history of the circus. World Circus Day brings these circus performers to the forefront where their skills are celebrated and recognized as a legitimate art form.
It helps circus performers raise funds
Attending these circus events helps these performers raise money for their future performances. The more money they raise, the bigger chance they’ll have to source better equipment, bigger venues, and improve their overall working conditions.
World Circus Day dates