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an age when families come in more shapes than that ice-cream chain has flavours, that what was being celebrated was an outdated Norman Rockwell image."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!