Sunday, February 17, 2008

Family Day: A rose by any other name...

Dh & I (& a couple of million other people) are currently in the middle of enjoying our first-ever government-mandated February long weekend. "Family Day" is the first new holiday instituted by our provincial government since Labour Day became a holiday in 1894, more than 100 years ago. (No work tomorrow, woohoo!!) That long, bleak, long-weekendless stretch between Christmas and Easter is no more.

My American cousins have long celebrated "Presidents' Day" on this weekend. When I was in university, there was "Study Week" (also known in some circles as "Ski Week") during February, and March/spring break during my childhood school days -- but most adult Canadians have long gone without a statutory break during the frigid grey winter months between Christmas/New Year's Day and Easter (which could fall anywhere between mid-March and mid-April).

About 20 years ago, the province of Alberta declared the third Monday in February to be a provincial holiday & called it "Family Day" -- inspired, supposedly, by then-Premier Don Getty's family troubles with his son & his regrets at having not spent more time with his children. Saskatchewan got into the act a few years ago, then Manitoba, & now Ontario. The new holiday was the brainchild of our Premier, Dalton McGuinty, during last fall's provincial election (how convenient!).

Typically, the implementation of the new holiday has left much to be desired -- because the new holiday was announced so hastily last fall, and because of labour laws & union agreements, etc., not everybody will get tomorrow off, & there has been much grumbling about that. There has also been much musing in the press over what exactly one should do and eat on Family Day -- as the Toronto Star put it today, "How to invest an invented holiday with meaning."

And there's been a lot of rumination about the nature of families themselves, and the labelling of the holiday. As columnist Jim Coyle noted in an article in the Toronto Star this week:
"For a quarter-century or more, the idea of family values has been hijacked for political ends, trumpeted by a self-appointed moral majority, reeking of the kind of stifling, pious, hypocritical patriarchy that sent legions to therapists' couches. There was suspicion, in an age when families come in more shapes than that ice-cream chain has flavours, that what was being celebrated was an outdated Norman Rockwell image."

Beyond the political, of course, there is the personal. Even though dh & I like to think of ourselves as a "family of two," we are not a family, in the eyes of some people. Many people still consider "family" to be a (married, heterosexual) couple with the requisite two kids (preferably one of each gender). Anything that falls outside that definition... well....

Even those you might think would be most sensitive to our pain can sometimes be so wrapped up in their own struggles they don't realize the hurt they can cause. I can remember wincing as a client of our pregnancy loss support group, crying over her loss and her subsequent struggles to have another child, insisted that she & her husband were not a family, not a "real" family. To her, a family equalled husband, wife and baby, and anything less than that was lacking. Who was I to argue with her, particularly in that setting and in my role as facilitator and listener?

For anyone for whom family -- of origin, or creation -- has been a source of pain and not comfort -- for the thousands (millions?) of Ontarians who, like dh & me, have experienced the pain of infertility & pregnancy loss -- "Family Day" is invested with an entirely different meaning than the rosy picture the government has tried to create. I'm sure when Dalton got the bright idea for this holiday & encouraged families to "spend more time together," he wasn't thinking about dh & me standing in the pouring, freezing rain at the cemetery in front of our daughter's niche this afternoon.

I would have much preferred a name that smacked less of political pandering to the "family values" crowd & something tied more to our history and heritage. In 1996, Prime Minister Jean Chretien declared Feb. 15th as National Flag of Canada Day, or Flag Day, marking Canada's adoption of the red & white maple leaf flag in 1965 -- but he neglected to give us the day off to celebrate. Manitoba is calling this holiday "Riel Day." Even though Louis Riel is still a controversial figure in Canadian history, more than 120 years after he was hanged for treason, at least it's a nod to our history and something to get people talking about it.

But then, a rose by any other name... etc. etc. A holiday is a holiday, no matter how you label it. And Lord knows we need a break at this time of year, in this country. So if you are lucky enough to have a long weekend, whatever it's called, I hope you're enjoying it!


  1. Sometimes roses are, however, thorny. Enjoy your long weekend - no matter what it's called. This is the way we live in the world of Don't Have a Clue.

    Monday for us here in the state's is President's Day - though not everyone gets it off. Dh is still working - but of course the banks and post office will be closed. Our school here was supposed to have it off - but a few snow days (actually ICE days) last week and so much for President's Day and a 3 day weekend. :0) Yes, can you believe the audacity of the school - to call a national holiday on account of ice?? lol

  2. Yesterday was the first I heard of it when my friend told me her fiance was off work tomorrow (which is today) for Family Day. Personally, I would have called it Le Break (for the good people of Quebec et al as well as the English speakers). If the whole point was to give a three-day weekend between Christmas and Easter so people didn't get burned out, why not call it Burn In Day. Instead of "burn out."

  3. How touching it was to read you went to visit your daughter on "Family Day".

    In BC, we still don't have a holiday, though DH is taken the day off work because the markets are closed, and well, I'm an actor, so I don't really need any more days off thank you. But it would have been nice to have a long weekend to look forward to during the most crappy months of the year. Our Family Day will consist of walking our beloved fur baby, Sampson in the park.

  4. Fascinating. I had not heard of this. I hope the declaration of a national holiday had a "no copycats -- that means you, U.S." clause, as the "family friend" politicians here would be all over this idea.

  5. I look forward to celebrating "Childless/Childfree Day" sometime soon. Only the childless and childfree will get the day off work --- to get our nails done, or whatever it is that parents imagine we do with our copious spare time. The parents, meanwhile, will be at the office, making up for the many hours we have worked for them while their kids were sick, when they left right at 5 pm to be home for dinner with the family, etc. (Not to be all bitter and nasty or anything! But sheesh, "Family Day" is just kind of mean.)