We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Joan Didion

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (well, actually back in 1991 in Sweden), a Storytelling Day was held. The ethos behind this event caught on around the globe, and now we celebrate World Storytelling Day at an international level. So gather your loved ones, make sure everyone’s sitting comfortably, and get ready to immerse yourselves in the magic of stories…

History of World Storytelling Day

Storytelling has been around for almost as long as humankind itself. In fact, we can’t really make sense of the world around us without narrative, can’t function without the power of storytelling to help us piece it all together. Our very brains are wired to understand stories and pass them on!

Throughout history, storytellers have been revered and celebrated in cultures all around the world, often seen as leaders, teachers, entertainers and more. In the Middle Ages, for example, wandering storytellers known as minstrels or troubadours delighted royalty and peasants alike with their captivating tales, which they had often picked up from the various places and countries they travelled through.

Although one of the many special things about oral storytelling is that each teller can make the stories their own, it is also helpful to have ways to remember them. Aboriginal people in Australia, for example, used cave drawings to help commit the tales to memory, and storytellers have frequently used songs, chants and dance to aid recollection. Common storytelling techniques have also resulted from this need to remember as well as improvise stories – set phrases such as ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’, typical plot structures, archetypal characters, repetition, rhyme and much more assist tellers in mastering this art form.

In much the same way that stories are shared and take on a life of their own, World Storytelling Day has gradually grown over time and spread all over the globe. It all began in Sweden back in 1991, when an Alla berättares dag (All Storytellers Day) was celebrated at the time of the March equinox. And it wasn’t long before the rest of the world caught on.

By 1997 the occasion had travelled to Australia and Latin America and by 2002 it had spread across the rest of Scandinavia. 2009 marked the first time it was celebrated across all six continents (excluding Antarctica of course!). Now World Storytelling Day takes place every year and centers around a different theme each time, for example dreams, trees and voyages.

The aim of World Storytelling Day is to celebrate the art of oral storytelling, with as many people as possible around the world telling and listening to stories in their own languages on the same day. People taking part can link up with others around the globe who are also contributing, making it a truly international festival that creates new friendships and promotes a positive understanding of cultures around the world!

The power of storytelling

Anyone who’s spent a sunny afternoon lost in a book or refused to go to bed until their parents read them a tale understands the power of stories and storytelling. They transport us into other realms, allow us to lead multiple lives within our own imaginations, inspire us to be better people and help us understand those around us.  

Stories are a key to knowledge, education and learning. Each generation can pass on its wisdom to the next, not through some dry and dusty old textbook but through tales that really engage the listener. Through storytelling we can practice skills such as empathy – putting ourselves into others’ shoes so that we’re able to see the world from their perspective. We can also learn from the characters’ trials and tribulations, less likely to make the same mistakes ourselves.

Telling stories also helps us understand the world around us, as we humans naturally seek explanations and patterns. Even science can be considered a kind of storytelling – from ancient gods whipping up thunderstorms to the earth being at the center of the solar system, from evil spirits causing diseases to our current understanding of quantum mechanics, science is always using narrative to try and explain the universe in which we live.   

Storytelling is also vital for cultural identity and preservation. Some indigenous communities, for example, agree on and teach cultural values through storytelling. And while the abundance of stories allows us to learn about people, places, countries and cultures beyond our own, their universality means that they help build connections and shared experiences between us all.

Nowadays storytelling is also key to business, especially marketing. Think of an advertisement that’s stuck with you and why – in all likelihood it featured a compelling story! Not only do adverts that revolve around a story build emotional connections with us, but they also engage us more and therefore become more memorable.

How to celebrate World Storytelling Day

There are a whole host of ways to celebrate World Storytelling Day. Gather your loved ones, perhaps around a fire under the stars or someplace cozy and warm inside, and take it in turns to share your favorite tales. Think about how to really engage your audience – suspenseful pauses, different voices for each character, getting them involved in the story – a flare for the dramatic will go a long way on World Storytelling Day!

It’s especially fun to get kids involved, as they more than anyone can appreciate the magic of stories. Why not make some epic scenery and props, pull together a few creative costumes or invent songs and dance routines to go along with your tales? Puppet shows are another fun way for children to practice their storytelling skills, or you can all pick a character and act the story out.

And you don’t just have to tell stories you’ve heard – if you’re feeling especially creative, then have a go at inventing your own! The sky really is the limit when it comes to storytelling – the setting, genre, style and so much more are completely up to you. Think about the beginning, middle and ending, how (and if!) the characters learn and grow, and what kind of narrator you want to be.  

Check out your local library, literary organizations and other art and culture venues – they’re bound to be holding events to mark the occasion. For example, they may host a performance from a professional storyteller who really gets the audience involved.  

Literary festivals are another great way to listen to stories from the pros and brush up on your own skills. Popular events include open mic sessions, workshops for people to learn more about the craft, panel discussions with the experts and even opportunities to hear from and meet with published writers.

Make sure to check out YouTube, social media and the World Storytelling Day Facebook page to connect with others celebrating all around the world. Thanks to the wonder of technology, you can listen to stories told on the other side of the planet and in a whole range of languages. It’s a great way to create new friendships and grow the international community of storytellers.

So, go on, sit down with your loved ones and join the united nations of storytellers to celebrate the art of oral storytelling! Why not spin a yarn and pass on your stories to people all around the world?

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