This Week in Canada: Family Day, or keeping up with the Canadian Joneses

Sue Spang, Class of ’07

Next week, Monday, Feb. 16, some Canadians may celebrate a holiday. Don’t feel convinced? Neither do I. But, a couple years back, the legislature of Ontario decided that residents of that province ought to expand from eight statutory holidays per year to nine, and Oct. 27, 2007, Family Day was born.
I first encountered Family Day marked on a calendar in my residence. “Family Day!” I exclaimed to my friend Stephanie, a life-long resident of Ontario. “What is Family Day?” I asked, excited to discover yet another uniquely Canadian function.
She sighed heavily. “Family Day is the dumbest thing ever.”
Celebrated on the third Monday in February, the holiday is meant to give employees a break in the long stretch between New Year’s Day and Good Friday, and, according to the Ministry of Labour, because Ontarians “deserve more time to spend with the people they love.”
For those of you keeping score at home, Family Day has been celebrated only once, Feb. 16, 2008. Perhaps owing to the newness of the holiday, or perhaps to its confusing aims of love and togetherness, the first Family Day was recognized only sparingly. This lack of participation was perhaps due to the holiday’s lack of recognition at the federal level; while schools had the day off, federal workers, such as postal employees, did not.
Like all holidays in Canada, Family Day is provincial. Ontario, however, is not the first to celebrate either a holiday devoted to families or a holiday on the third Monday of February. Alberta first celebrated Family Day in 1990, while Saskatchewan celebrated its first Family Day in 2007.
Manitoba observes Feb. 18 as Louis Riel Day, in recognition of the 19th-century hero-turned-traitor generally regarded to be the “Father of Manitoba.” Though Riel spent much of his influential time exiled to the United States, his return to Canada was met with arrest, trial, and Riel’s execution, after which he was revered and celebrated. Louis Riel Day was first celebrated in 2008.
As for the traditions associated with Family Day, information is sparse, most likely due to the fact that it’s only been half-celebrated once. I turn to not-terribly-credible-looking Web site, which informs me that many “people have a day off work and schools are generally closed on Family Day. Many businesses and organizations are closed, but post offices may be open. Public transport services may run to their usual or reduced timetables.”
Additionally, the Web site adds, “As the weather is usually very cold in February, hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies are popular snacks.”
At this point, let us stand back and evaluate the credibility of this so-called “Family Day.” First, Family Day does little to create any identity of its own, not only occupying the same date as Louis Riel Day, but also the United States’ Presidents’ Day. Secondly, what legitimate government holiday doesn’t give postal workers the day off?
Third, I don’t trust any holiday without some “historical basis,” regardless of how completely implausible that history might be. Canadians have a lot of trouble with this, however, even refusing to fabricate a fable about harvest and goodwill for their version of Thanksgiving. Lastly, hot chocolate and ice-skating doth not a holiday make — a lack of mail delivery does. All in all, Family Day sounds more like a planned snow day than a government holiday.
Our answer may lie back at the Ministry of Labour Web site. A question in the FAQ regarding the number of public holidays in Ontario is answered, “The additional holiday gives Ontario employees a total of nine statutory holidays per year, the same as in Alberta and British Columbia and one less than in Saskatchewan.”
Family Day is less a holiday for families and more a holiday for a holiday’s sake, it seems. So, for those Ontarians lucky enough to have next Monday off, they’ll be getting out their hockey sticks and oven mitts, reading their mail, and knowing the satisfaction that only comes with keeping up with the other prominent Canadian provinces. Oh, and their families.