USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘420’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

4/20 An Informal Holiday

This is the transcribed conversation I had with a friend from Marin County, a county extremely close to San Rafael. This friend also happens to observe this Holiday and I inquired into its origins.

E: How did this unconventional holiday come to be?

J: In the early 70’s at San Rafael high school a group of friends who called themselves “The Waldos” began this tradition. One day one of the teenage boys got word from his brother’s friend that someone had planted a massive field of marijuana plants. Fortunate for the Waldos the field was apparently abandoned, so they decided to try and harvest.

Everyday, at 4:20 p.m., after their sports practices had ended the boys would go search for the bud. Unfortunately they never found the treasured field but it eventually became a tradition that everyday at that same time they would congregate and partake in a group smoking session. Eventually the tradition caught on with other students. It became part of of everyday vernacular. Because the Grateful Dead originate from an area not too far from the origins of 4/20 apparently some of the Waldos were friends with members of the group. Eventually the group further popularized the tradition and terminology, thus this day came to be.

E: When and how did you first hear this story?

J: I was fairly late into middle school or early into high school when an older friend of mine told me about it.

E: There are a lot of other theories as to its origins why are you so certain it stems from the Bay Area?

J: To begin it’s actually a common misconception that Bob Marley’s birthday is 4/20, it’s actually in February. Also, yes it does happen to be Hitler’s birthday but that’s no cause for celebration. The Waldos have the earliest recorded evidence of the use of the phrase and ideas about the tradition.

E: What does this day mean to you?

J: Honestly it’s more than weed. It’s about getting to spend time with people that you enjoy, and if people that you don’t enjoy are present then you can bond over weed. There’s a whole culture that came from that one group of friends in high school, I think that’s pretty special.


I found the alleged origin story of this modern holiday that came to be really interesting. Humble roots to say the least. I think it’s also amazing to see the pride people from the Bay Area have for being the site of its creation. The hometown pride and the sense of camaraderie showed me that the day means a lot more to people than it seems.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

420 Holiday/Metafolklore

My informant is a college student, artist and avid pot smoker. He knows a lot of “stoner tricks” as he calls them, most of which he learned from friends in high school. These and other aspects of weed culture mean a lot to him because he sees pot as a way of bonding with peers and enhancing creativity. Uniquely, as far as I have heard, he also uses it as a form of self-medication; he has ADHD and takes Ritalin, but says that it makes him feel mentally cloudy and slow, and that weed, for him, clears things up and makes him able to focus more easily. Thus, pot is an integral part of his daily life, both socially and personally.

He first heard about 420 in late middle school or early high school from friends, and first celebrated it three years ago. He has partaken in the festivities every year on April 20th since.

This interview was conducted during a break in class, outside the classroom on a balcony.

“What is 420?”

“Hold on I gotta look something up real quick, gotta fact-check for a second…”
“Naw man you’re not allowed to!”

“Aw really? Alright I’m not on my A game man, but I’ll tell you what I can remember… So the gist of it is that there was like a group of students once upon a time probably in the 60s that met afterschool everyday at 4:20 at a certain statue or a certain landmark on campus like right outside their school to go smoke, so that’s the reason, because it was at 4:20 in the afternoon. And there’s been rumors as to other reasons why, so like some people thought that it’s Hitler’s birthday and that’s why, but I don’t know why people would celebrate that so that’s kind of a dumb one but then another one is that there’s a law, some proposition in the police code that has to do with arresting people for marijuana that is 420 or something…”

“I heard it was police code, like ohh 420 alert, somebody’s smoking weed”

“Yeah that’s something I’ve heard before as well but that’s also not true. See some of these might have some truth to them so like for example I think Hitler’s birthday is actually on April 20th, but it’s just a coincidence like that’s not the actual reason. But back to the students, I mean I guess school let out at 4pm so they figured like hey, 20 minutes to get to the spot and they had like a smoke spot that I believe was behind a statue but I could be wrong about that, and, um, that just permeates into stoner culture, like everyone has their smoke spot, you know, cause it’s illegal in most places so you have to have a place you’re relatively sure is safe, so everyone has their spot that they’ve come up with… And we used to have a spot, you know back home…”

“Oh yeah? What was your spot?”
“Well there was this shortcut through the woods near my friend’s house that went to a public pool, and like we would just take that shortcut and like, go off into the woods, kind of off to the side, and smoke there, but they put some lights there so we like can’t do it this year cause unfortunately it’s well lit now, but RIP smoke spot… Anyway well the other thing is that now it’s like a holiday, right, so at 4:20am and 4:20pm and all day 4/20 [April 20th] people just smoke a lot of weed basically, and it’s turned into a cultural icon I guess.”

“How do you celebrate 4/20?”

“Well I mean I’ve only celebrated it three times… but uh, lemme think. Well, it’s the same as everyone, just get as high as many different ways as possible, like collect them all, like try to do every different method in one day, that’s one thing you could do that’s like kind of fun, I tried that once I think my second time.”

My informant is obviously very interested in having accurate information, and sets his stories apart from “wives’ tales” in stoner culture as truth and having been “fact-checked”. I found this interesting because upon asking him, most of what he thought was “wives’ tales” came from friends and most of what he thought was true he had fact-checked on online forums about weed. I also think that the context in which he heard this piece of folklore and the metafolklore surrounding it is interesting because it is in the early teenage years when people become introduced to the concept of drugs, especially pot, and when many people begin to try it. His attachment to the truth reveals his attachment to being a more “legitimate” person within his identity as a stoner.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Four Twenty – Folk Holiday

On 4.20.2011, I heard many students around me mention a celebration of something known as Four Twenty or 420. Investigating into it, I found that it was a folk holiday where people celebrated the use of marijuana. Interviewing one informant on the holiday, he said the following:

“Collector: So, what is four twenty?

Informant: Four twenty is when people go out and they smoke the dope… a lot.

Collector: What’s the dope?

Informant: Weed.

Collector: So where does four twenty come from?

Informant: I’ve always heard it as the police code for possession of marijuana is like Four Twenty…I’m not sure, it’s just what it’s called.

Collector: So do you know anybody that has celebrated Four Twenty?

Informant: Well, on Four Twenty, my friends would go out and smoke at like 4:20 p.m, ideally.

Collector: So on Four Twenty, everybody would be smoking weed?

Informant: Yep.

Collector: Where did you learn this?

Informant: Just at school, all my friends did it.

Collector: Where did they learn it from?

Informant: Well one of friends is notoriously bad and he spread it to us.

Collector: Ok, well, what do you think the importance of four twenty is?

Informant: I don’t think it has any significance, it’s just an excuse for people to go out and smoke weed–but it’s widely celebrated.”

My informant is a Caucasian American who grew up in Los Altos, California. In his interview, he considers Four Twenty a somewhat real and legitimatized holiday that one celebrates with one’s friends–a holiday where he and his friends would go out and smoke marijuana. It is interesting to note that while much marijuana related activity is illegal in America, this sort of folk holiday is still prevalent among the teenage youth culture (especially when California Proposition 19 was not passed). The focus of Four Twenty seems not on the day or the holiday but the a sort of bond or camaraderie between smoking partners, such as friends.

I, the collector, when walking around the college dormitory, was actually invited to smoke marijuana with acquaintances I met or knew throughout the school year. Thus, I am sure the emphasis of the holiday is not on the act of smoking marijuana, but on a certain joy in knowing one shares a culture with another–a marijuana culture.

In addition, as my informant mentioned, the origin of 4.20 could perhaps be a police code for the possession of marijuana. No matter if it is true or not, this suggests Four Twenty as a part of a rebel culture, where one breaks the law or the rules that govern one’s actions.