The birth of Family Day was inspired out of one man's tragic moment in time. Since 1990, it has become an annual treasure for many of us in Canada...
In late 1989, a young man was arrested for possession of cocaine. This would have been an unmemorable event without media attention were it not for the fact that he was the son of the Premier of Alberta at the time. Largely embarrassed by the arrest and publicly forced to realize his son's addiction, the now former Premier suggested he had neglected his family responsibilities over his years in high office. Noting that it was important to spend time with family, he drove the creation of Family Day in Alberta.
And, thus, Family Day was born. It has become an important part of the statutory holiday cycle for most Canadians.
But what does statutory exactly mean anyway? It means that Canadians get a day off from work – to spend with family preferably – and still get paid full wages.
There is a range of these statutory holidays across Canada. Each of the ten provinces and three territories has anywhere between five and ten of them. Let's take a quick look, shall we?
In Canada there are only five National statutory holidays:
- New Year’s Day: January 1st is the closest thing to being the world's only truly global public holiday, often celebrated with fireworks at the stroke of midnight as the new year starts;
- Good Friday: the second day of the Triduum, the three days before Easter, during which Christians commemorate Christ's Passion. Because it is dependent on the date of Easter, and Easter is a moveable feast, the date of Good Friday changes each year. It generally falls mid to late March and early April;
- Canada Day: July 1st celebrating the anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 (today called the Constitution Act, 1867), which united three colonies into a single country called Canada within the British Empire;
- Labour Day: has been celebrated on the first Monday in September since the 1880s. The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour work-week; and,
- Christmas Day: is celebrated by an increasing number of non-Christians and is an integral part of the Christmas and holiday season starting December 25th.
Federally-regulated businesses such as banks and Federal employees also get an additional four stats:
- Easter Monday: generally in mid to late March and early April (see Good Friday above);
- Victoria Day: celebrated on the last Monday before May 25th, in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday;
- Thanksgiving Day: the second Monday of October as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest ; and,
- Boxing Day: December 26th when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts from their superiors or employers, known as a 'Christmas box'.
While it is common for Provinces to also make Easter Monday, Victoria Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Boxing Day into statutory Provincial holidays, it is not legally necessary for them to do so. As a result, the number of statutory holidays across the country varies from a low of five in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to a high of ten in the Nunavut Territory.
Now back to Family Day. In BC, New Brunswick, and Ontario, the promise of a new holiday in February featured prominently in various political campaigns in the last decade. Some worked while some did not, like the unfortunate Liberal Premier of New Brunswick in 2010. When he was not re-elected, the proposed holiday did not materialize for the Province.
For most Canadians, a variation of 'Family Day' is a relatively new development. Although Alberta's holiday has been in place since 1990, it took until the latter part of the last decade before some Provinces fully embraced it:
- Saskatchewan in 2007;
- Manitoba (Riel Day) and Ontario in 2008;
- PEI (Islander Day) in 2009; and,
- BC in 2013.
This year marks the first provincially-recognized Family Day in British Columbia although it is celebrated on the second Monday of February (last Monday on the 11th) rather than the third (this following Monday on the 18th). Provinces that do not celebrate Family Day include New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and the three northern Territories – and, since it is not a Federal statutory holiday, those who work for the Federal Government such as postal workers are not recipients of this paid day off to spend with their families.
For those of us who have the holiday and have witnessed history in the making, it is an opportunity to look at the roots of this day. It is a day to define what 'family' means – and then to celebrate it. Traditionally, family is multi-generational. In the modern world, it's even more than that – it's a blend of families from previous unions to the new ones, ex in-laws and prospective in-laws, and sometimes with children while occasionally without. Balancing them for this day is essential.
But let's keep it going...
- Maybe your closest circle lives provinces away – they're still just a call or an email away;
- Perhaps all you have is your 'dog' – so what! An extra walk or a special treat to show your love and devotion is not such a bad thing; and,
- Oh! The in-laws... Dreaded or not, who cares if their criticism of you rubs you the wrong way! It's Family Day, Riel Day, or Islander Day – and, likely, their unrefined words or perceived criticisms are really their way to tell you they care about you throughout the year. We all come from varying generations, cultural traditions, and experiences, don't we?
Family Day is about acceptance. Understanding. And love.
You might not always like them, but you always love them... That's family!
As a reminder of the original family tragedy over two decades ago in Alberta, most Canadians now have a day to pause and value their families however they define them. So as this weekend approaches, remember that a celebration of family can be extended to pets, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, parents, and grandparents – and those closest to us who we see as family.
Pick up the phone. Jot a note. Or have a feast and enjoy the day. It is the most important day of the year!
Without 'family', we simply cannot be the best we can be. •
E.Stephen Johnson & Sheila Quinn
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