Canadian Holidays – Days of Celebration

All holidays can be good times – John Clayton, National Football League (NFL) writer and reporter for ESPN

Canada celebrates several holidays observed everywhere in Canada.  These national statutory holidays include New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, Labor Day and Christmas along with additional holidays for the provinces and territories.  National statutory holidays are paid days off without working for all employees.   Besides these holidays, there are holidays that federal employees commonly don’t work; although this is not a requirement of the government.  These holidays include Easter Monday, Victoria Day, Thanksgiving and Boxing Day.  Businesses may elect to close on other holidays, too.

Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Father’s Day and Halloween are celebrated throughout Canada, but they are not designated as official holidays, and therefore, there is no paid vacation for these days.  Family Day, Civic Holiday and Remembrance Day are holidays celebrated throughout many provinces and territories in Canada.

It’s always interesting and fun to learn about holidays in other countries, especially if you have a friend from Canada, or if you study, travel or work in and around Canada.  Let me share some insights about these holidays.

New Year’s Day is celebrated like natives of most other countries on January 1st.  The eve is spent with family and friends, at home or at parties to include singing and dancing, dining and drinking.  This is the time to make New Year’s resolutions and to begin the year anew. New Year’s Day is a day spent with family, relatives and friends often watching parades or sporting events on television.

Two-thirds of all Canadians live in a province that celebrates Family Day, known as Louis Riel Day and Islander Day in some of the provinces.  In many of these provinces, this holiday is celebrated on the same day as Presidents Day in the United States (i.e., the third Monday in February); in other provinces it is celebrated on the second Monday in February.  This is a day set aside for families to spend time with each other, as at the time of inception, there were few holidays from January 1st and New Year’s to Good Friday in spring.  Families enjoy watching movies, playing board games and participating in sports like ice skating, swimming, etc.  Some communities plan special public events, and art galleries and museums may have reduced entry fees. Hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies are popular snacks. As Family Day falls on the same date as National Heritage Day, (except in British Columbia), some people use the day to find out more about their personal heritage and family history.

Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14th is celebrated much like Valentine’s Day in the United States. Cards, flowers, and gifts are given to those you love.  Children often exchange valentines at school.  The colors of red, white and pink accompanied by hearts are popular on this day both for clothing and also for gift-giving.

St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador and it is celebrated on the nearest Monday to March 17 each year. This is the day that St. Patrick, a missionary in Ireland, died in the 5th century.  This day celebrates Irish culture, history and traditions with parades and festivals. Traditional dishes of colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with kale or cabbage) and Irish stew made from lamb and root vegetables are enjoyed along with Irish drinks of stout, dark beer, and whiskey.  Green and sometimes orange is the color of the day, and shamrocks are used to decorate.  The shamrock, the leaf of the clover plant, is a symbol of Ireland.

Good Friday in March or April commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross.  Easter Sunday marks the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Both days are important observances for Christians around the world. The Monday after Easter is known as Eater Monday. This day is often a travel day for families who travel over Easter weekend.

Mother’s Day is the 2nd Sunday in May, a day devoted to expressing gratitude and love towards mothers and other women (step-mothers, mothers-in-law, foster or adoptive mothers, etc.). Cards, flowers and gifts are given in honor of “mothers” by their children, spouses and other relatives. Carnations are a popular symbol in Canada, as well as the United States.

Victoria Day celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria and the present Canadian Monarch.  It is observed on a Monday either on May 24th or a Monday prior to this date.  Canada is the only country that commemorates Queen Victoria with an official holiday. The Royal Union Flag is flown at all federal government buildings including airports, military bases and other Crown-owned property across Canada where there is a second flag pole as the national flag is not displaced. At noon on Victoria Day, a royal 21-gun salute is fired in each provincial capital and in the national capital at noon. There are parades, reenactments and firework shows. This day also serves as an unofficial marker of the end of the winter season. This holiday is known as “May Two-Four” in parts of Canada as this term refers to the date around when the holiday falls (May 24) and the Canadian slang for a case of twenty-four beers (a “two-four”), a popular drink during the long weekend.

Father’s Day is celebrated on the 3rd Sunday in June.  This is a day set aside to show appreciation and love for father figures.  Common traditions on this day include giving gifts to fathers, and then spending time together as a family.  Ties and other clothing items, chocolate and favorite foods, books, and sporting and hobby equipment/supplies are typical gifts.  Children make or buy cards and treat their fathers to eating out and an activity to be enjoyed by the whole family (i.e. visiting the park, zoo, movies, etc.)

Canada Day is celebrated July 1st as “Canada’s birthday” and marks the joining of the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada into a federation of four provinces in 1867 as the Province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec.  Outdoor public events such as parades, carnivals, festivals, cook-outs, music concerts, air and maritime shows, fireworks and ceremonies for new citizens are held.

Civic Holiday is the most widely used name for a public holiday (also known as British Columbia Day, New Brunswick Day, Saskatchewan Day, Natal Day, Simcoe Day, Colonel By Day, George Hamilton Day, Joseph Brant Day, Founders’ Day, McLaughlin Day, Alexander Mackenzie Day, James Cockburn Day, Peter Robinson Day, John Galt Day and numerous other names) celebrated in parts of Canada on the first Monday in August

Labor Day is the first Monday in the September.  It is a day to celebrate the economic and social achievements of all workers.  There are festivals and parades, parties and picnics and events/activities scheduled in different municipalities.

Halloween is celebrated in Canada on October 31. It is a day to mark the single night in the year when, according to old Celtic beliefs, spirits and the dead can cross over into the world of the living. Some people hold parties and children trick-or-treat in their neighborhood. Often people decorate their homes and yards with black cats, bats and spiders and cobwebs, skeletons and graveyards, ghosts and witches and haunted houses.  There may be a themed party and people dress in costumes and dance to spooky music and watch horror films. Many children go trick-or-treating in popular dress of ghosts, witches, skeletons and other cleverly-created costumes.  They knock on doors in hopes of receiving candy or other snacks.  Popular foods include caramel apples, roasted corn, popcorn balls and pumpkin bread/pie. Orange and black are traditional colors.  

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October to give thanksgiving for bountiful harvests. This holiday is often observed in other countries throughout the world, but at different times of the year.  Family, friends and relatives gather to share a meal featuring elaborate dishes.  The focus of this day remains the same:  to give appreciation to God for the “bountiful harvests”.

Remembrance Day is celebrated on November 11 to commemorate the dead war soldiers of Canada.  It is symbolized by the paper poppies that people wear and place at war memorials to commemorate members of the community who have died in military action. The use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance comes from a poem called Flanders Fields written by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor serving in the military. This poem describes the poppies growing in the Flemish graveyards where soldiers were buried and the large numbers of poppies on battlefields. The flower’s color reminds people of the blood lost by those in battle. Some people choose to wear white poppies as their symbol for non-military interventions in conflict situations.  On Remembrance Day, there are many military parades.

Christmas on December 25th marks the birth of Jesus Christ and it is celebrated by Christians.  It is customary to exchange gifts, enjoy a special festive meal and attend a special church service.  Some of these are celebrated on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.  Important symbols include baby Jesus and the Holy Family in the staple, stars and Christmas trees. Santa Claus is a mythical figure said to wear a red suit and have a long white beard and travel in a sleigh by reindeer.  He fills stockings or leaves presents under the Christmas tree.

Boxing Day is celebrated in December 26th, the day after Christmas to commemorate the Feast of St. Stephen who was the first Christian martyr. Many people start their annual shopping on Boxing Day. It is common practice for shoppers to start waiting outside stores in the early hours of the morning to get a head start on sales. These sales often last for a whole week between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve and are known as the "Boxing Week Sales" instead of the "Boxing Day Sales". A number of important hockey events begin on this date and are televised on major sports networks.

The background ofthe this day is interesting. One story tells in feudal times in the United Kingdom, the lord of the manor would pay boxes of practical goods such as agricultural tools, food and clothing to those who worked for him. These boxes were often distributed on the day after Christmas. Today, employers traditionally give their servants a gift of money or food in a small box on the day after Christmas Day. Other stories relate to servants being allowed to take a portion of the food left over from the Christmas celebrations in a box to their families and the distribution of alms from the church collection boxes to poor parishioners. These traditions evolved into the Christmas baskets that some employers distribute to their employees during the holiday season at the end of the year.

Birthdays are often marked with birthday parties where layered birthday cakes containing a wrapped coin are served. The person who finds the coin is the first player at all of the party games. Children attending the parties receive colorful party favors called crackers which are tubes wrapped in crepe paper that pop when you pull a paper strip.  Inside, there are prizes, a fortune or a hat.  In some parts of Canada, the birthday child is “captured” and the nose greased for good luck.  The meaning behind this is that the child is too slippery for back luck to catch her/her.  In some regions, there is a sweet sixteen party held for girls who turn this magical age.

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