You’ll be “mad as a hatter” if you miss the chance to wear silly chapeaus, sip tea, quote from Alice’s adventures, listen to Tom Petty, and generally be foolish.
And so the story goes:
A group of computer programmers in Colorado, inspired by a John Tenniel illustration for the 1865 printing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and who wouldn’t be!), decided to wear top hats to work. Mistaking the price placard in the Hatter’s hat (10/6: 10 shillings and 6 pence in British coinage) for a date (October 6), Mad Hatter Day was born.
The tea party in question appears in Chapter Seven:
Chapter Seven – A Mad Tea-Party: Alice becomes a guest at a “mad” tea party along with the March Hare, the Hatter, and a very tired Dormouse, who falls asleep frequently only to be violently awakened moments later by the March Hare and the Hatter. The characters give Alice many riddles and stories, including the famous “why is a raven like a writing desk?.” The Hatter reveals that they have tea all day because Time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6 PM (tea time). Alice becomes insulted and tired of being bombarded with riddles and she leaves claiming that it was the stupidest tea party that she had ever been to. Wikipedia, synopsis, Alice [The book has 11 chapters in toto.]
Lewis Carroll never refers to the Hatter as “mad;” hatters and madness were synonymous in 18th and 19th century Britain due to the use of mercury nitrate in the hat making process (curing felt). The symptoms of mercury poisoning such as slurred speech, drooling, memory loss and tremors – all seen as indications of “madness” during that period. People upon reading Alice, naturally added “mad” to his name.
The March Hare is another symbol of madness: observations of European hares at the peak of the breeding season (March) included abnormal and odd behaviours not seen at other times of the year such as vertical leaps into the air (for no apparent reason) and “boxing” matches with other hares. Carroll’s Alice reinforced the allusion of “mad as a March hare” referring to any animal or person who behaves in an excitable and unpredictable manner.
After the madness of COVID-19, Mad Hatter Day seems an even more important “holiday” to celebrate.
And, just how to do that you might inquire [or why is a raven like a writing desk?]:
* Read Alice in Wonderland. (out loud; as a group in a Zoom meeting; re-enact scenes)
* Watch movies and television shows based on the novel. Alice first appeared on film as far back as 1903! and as recent as 2016. Put on your Mad Hatter thinking cap for episodes of shows which feature an Alice, tea party, or Hatter or hat theme.
* Listen to Alice-themed music/watch Alice-themed music videos.
* Have an old silly movies marathon:
“W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy all have at least one member who wears a top hat in the middle of insane antics. Make a night of it and you’ll be surprised at how these early films stand the test of the time.”
Suggestion: Laurel and Hardy’s The Piano, Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, WC Fields and May West’s My Little Chickadee (Warning: these films were made in politically, gendered and racially “uncorrect” times.)
Or, choose more modern farces, satires and romps.
* Wear a hat the whole day. Embellish one you already own to make it sillier. It doesn’t have to be a “mad hatter style” chapeau!
* Get kids involved – they know silly! And make believe. And dress up.
* Have a virtual tea party with friends and family. Try a new-to-you tea! Or a COVID-19 safe one outside in your yard – the Hatter and friends would no doubt appreciate the absurdity of these times.
Me, I shall quote “The Walrus and the Carpenter” . . . “the time has come to talk of many things . . . or perhaps tongue-twist through “The Jabberwocky” . . . “’[t]was brillig, and the slithy toves/[d]id gyre and gimble in the wabe.” Of course, that would be getting ahead of myself – these poems appeared in the sequel to Alice: Alice Through the Lookingglass and What She Found There. Perfect for an downsideup sort of day.
PS: A few Alice quotes from a 2015 article in The Guardian to mark the 150th anniversary of Alice’s publication:
The Queen: “Why sometimes I have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”
The Queen: “Off with their heads!”
The Queen: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
Cheshire Cat: “Oh you cannot help that . . . [w]e are all mad here.”
Alice: “It’s no use going back to yesterday, I was a different person then.”
The Mock Turtle: “No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.”
And from my childhood rememberings of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (which does stray from Carroll’s Alice in content, context, visuals, language, and script):
The white rabbit, running and consulting his watch, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say ‘hello’, ‘good-bye,’ I’m late . . . .”
illustrations: statue, tenniel drawing, raven and writing desk, the queen