Today, the 16th of June, is Bloomsday, the day the fictional character Leopold Bloom walks the streets of Dublin in James Joyce’s Ulysses. This might seem like an obscure holiday, and you might have never read Joyce. But, I think that anyone can find joy in this celebration, or at least some delightful bowler hats (styled after Joyce’s famed sketch of Bloom).
I first heard of the holiday when visiting the starting point of the book in Sandycove, Dublin. Here, Bloom begins his day with a swim in the ocean, and in the early spring of 2020, I found myself at that meeting of ocean and rock. It was a chilly and windy afternoon, but the place was bustling. A sign at the entrance called the spot a “Gentlemens Bathing Place,” but people of all genders were enjoying the cold day, diving and swimming in the waves.
I then toured the James Joyce Tower and Museum nearby, but I hadn’t read Ulysses. I also didn’t think I ever would. It seemed too intimidating, and I was just a study abroad student who had gone to a tourist spot. I was not, I thought, made of Ulysses-reading stock.
Later, in the fall of 2020, after being sent back early from that study abroad semester because of the pandemic, I did read Ulysses. But, I did not read it alone.
I read Joyce’s vast work within a class, with the help of my professor and his introductory videos, alongside an accompanying book of plot points and a work of annotations longer than Ulysses itself. I also read the book by participating (and commiserating with my classmates) in our in-class discussions.
I don’t think I could have read about Leopold Bloom’s day alone. I certainly don’t think anyone should, and I don’t think the fictional Bloom or the real Joyce would want that.
I also don’t think anyone should celebrate Bloomsday alone. Indeed, I think it’s impossible, because people around the world will be celebrating in their own fashion as well. According to the Bloomsday Festival website, the 2021 day will be a celebration of Dublin, full of online events like a virtual Bloomsday Breakfast of his famed fried pork kidneys, a Ulysses Punk Cabaret, Joyce art exhibitions, and more.
No matter how you celebrate Bloomsday, know that you celebrate it with others. Personally, I will be looking through my photos of Dublin and wishing I had a bowler hat, so I could pretend that I’m Leopold Bloom. I might also eat a veggie version of Bloom’s Breakfast while scrolling through some #bloomsday2021 tags on Instagram.
I hope your Bloomsday is as ordinary or extraordinary as you want it to be. All options are included in Ulysses, and all options are welcome in this nerdy June holiday.