When Canadians meet people abroad, they often encounter questions like ‘What do you do on the fourth of July?’ or ‘When are your bank holidays?’ These inquiries often make Canadians blush a bit and then politely answer that the fourth of July is an American holiday, while noting that national holidays are called ‘statutory’, not ‘bank’, holidays.
In truth, there’s no denying that the UK and the US influence Canada, and many of its holidays are identical to both—i.e. Christmas Day, New Year’s Day. Yet Canada is its own country and has its own holidays plus many special commemorative days of the year that Canadians enjoy celebrating.
Here are a few notable days of the Canadian calendar year. First, a few holidays…
Family Day, 20 February
This holiday was introduced only recently across various provinces Canada. Traditionally there were no holidays between January and March in Canada, so the federal government introduced Family Day to allow citizens a winter day of rest with their families.
Victoria Day, 23 May
Established to recognise Queen Victoria’s birthday, some Canadian university students snicker at this holiday as it often falls over a long weekend in and around May 24 known for partying. Hence the Victoria Day long weekend is often referred to as ‘May Two-Four’, a reference to an archetypical Canadian case of twenty-four beer bottles and a weekend that finds many university students partying to usher in the upcoming summer.
Canada Day, 1 July
This is arguably the most important holiday in the Canadian year. This is the date in 1867 that Canada became recognised as an independent nation from the British Crown. Many cities have festivities on this day, notably the capital Ottawa, which stages activities over the Canada Day long weekend.
Civic Holiday, 1 August
Many Canadians joke that the Canadian summer isn’t long enough so they added an extra holiday in August, which is now the Civic Holiday. In truth, it’s a holiday that originated in the province of Alberta to recognise the various heritages of many Canadians and their immigrant families.
Thanksgiving, 10 October
Like the United States, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in autumn to give thanks for the advantages they have had in their life, often praising their ancestors. However, Canadian Thanksgiving is almost always celebrated in October whereas it’s celebrated in November in the US.
Then there are some special days that, while not statutory holidays, are celebrated all across Canada in various capacities:
Robbie Burns Day, 25 January
Many Canadians have Scottish heritage and, as in Scotland, celebrate the famous Scottish poet’s commemorative day in January, complete with bagpipe music and a haggis dinner.
St. Valentine’s Day, 14 February
Canadian couples celebrate a day of love on the fourteenth of February with chocolates, roses, and lots of marriage proposals!
St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March
Canada has a big Irish influence, dating back to when its earliest settlers came over from Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day is enjoyed every year in pubs across Canada, complete with Irish dancing, potato-based cuisine, and green-dyed beer.
Earth Day, 22 April
As one of the countries that prides itself on improving the state of the natural environment, many Canadians celebrate Earth Day. This includes special lessons for children, and public businesses turning their office’s electronics off for an hour.
Halloween, 31 October
There’s a love of all things to do with horror in Canada, and there’s no better example of this than on Halloween. Jack-O-Lanterns are carved, children head out to trick-or-treat, and even business people and doctors dress up in their favourite vampire, superhero, or Jason Voorhees costume.
Remembrance Day, 11 November
Like Australia and New Zealand, Canada has assisted in many global conflicts, including World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and various campaigns in the Middle East. Sadly, this has resulted in many soldiers losing their lives. 11 November is an annual commemoration of these lost lives so that Canadians today remember why they enjoy their freedom.
It’s important to note that the Canadian government is currently debating incorporating new holidays to its calendar, including National Aboriginal Day and National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. Moreover, many Canadians enjoy celebrating many yearly ‘non-holiday’s include Coffee and Ice Cream Days!
If reading about these holidays and special days has created some interest in Canadian society and its people, be sure to see The Language Galley’s Canadian Culture elective as well as our various General and Business English courses at our Toronto school. Studying there will give you a chance to be immersed in Canadian culture and its many great traditions.