Throughout the year, Canadians observe a number of civic and religious celebrations and commemorations, giving them the opportunity to celebrate together or reflect on events that have marked Canada’s history. Some of these celebrations are statutory holidays.
February 15: National Flag of Canada Day
February 15 was declared National Flag of Canada Day in 1996. It marks the day in 1965 when our red and white maple leaf flag was first raised over Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Red and white were designated as Canada’s official colours in 1921 by His Majesty King George V. However, our current flag was not adopted by Parliament until 1964.
The religious celebrations and rites associated with Holy Week (Lent, Good Friday, Palm Sunday and Easter Monday), are especially observed in Acadian communities, with their long-standing Catholic traditions.
Monday before May 25: Victoria Day – Sovereign's Birthday
The Sovereign’s Birthday has been celebrated in Canada ever since the reign of Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1837–1901). After the death of Queen Victoria, the date of this celebration varied, depending on the birth date of the sovereign in power. In 1956, Queen Victoria’s birthday was chosen as the permanent date of this statutory holiday, also called the “Sovereign’s Birthday”. To mark the day, the Royal Union Flag—the Union Jack—is raised next to the Canadian flag on all federal buildings.
June 24: Saint-Jean-BaptisteSaint-Jean-Baptiste is Quebec’s “national” holiday. It has been a statutory holiday in that province since 1977. On that day, Quebeckers, who used to be called “French Canadians”, mark the expression of their national identity. Over the years, June 24 has evolved from a celebration by the French-Canadian family to a veritable “national” celebration for Quebec and Quebeckers, with countless activities across the province. In Nova Scotia, it is mostly expatriate Quebeckers and persons from Quebec who celebrate Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
June: Canadian Multiculturalism Day
Canadian Multiculturalism Day is an opportunity to celebrate our diversity and our commitment to democracy, equality and mutual respect, and to appreciate the contributions of the various multicultural groups and communities to Canadian society.
July 1: Canada Day
Canada Day marks the anniversary of Confederation in 1867. On that day, Canadians come together and celebrate the things they have in common. They celebrate Confederation, the success of which can be attributed, among other things, to the contribution of new Canadians. It also provides an opportunity to showcase the country’s artistic heritage and to commemorate Canada’s history. A huge multicultural show is presented on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and is broadcast across the country.
For more than 20 years now, Canada Day committees have been organizing celebrations in each province and territory showcasing local talent. The day’s celebrations wrap up with traditional displays of fireworks. The display in Halifax is particularly spectacular, with the fireworks reflecting off the water in the harbour.
This civic holiday marks the founding of the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth. There are parades, as well as activities for children, adults and families; sporting events; a walk across the MacDonald Bridge; concerts; fireworks; etc. Other communities in Nova Scotia also hold activities on the Monday.
In 2003, the Parliament of Canada officially designated August 15 “National Acadian Day”. However, Acadians had been celebrating their national holiday since 1881! It was on that date that the first national Acadian Convention chose August 15, the day of the Assumption, as the Acadian National Holiday. The date reflected the Acadians’ connection with the Catholic religion, and particularly the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and with the ideology of the former regime in France, where Louis XIII decreed August 15 the country’s national holiday.
Everywhere in Acadia, August 15 is celebrated with masses, entertainment and especially the famous tintamarre, a parade through the streets in which the participants, dressed in the Acadian colours or waving Acadian flags, make as much noise as possible by banging on pots, waving noisemakers, playing musical instruments or by using any other means they can think of. The purpose is, of course, to reaffirm their presence and to show that they are here to stay!
First Monday in September: Labour Day
Labour Day, instituted in honour of the labour movement, is a statutory holiday that is celebrated across Canada. For students, it is the last long weekend before they go back to school.
Second Monday in October: Thanksgiving
This statutory holiday is associated with farming and harvest time. Traditionally, it was the opportunity to “give thanks to almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured.” Nowadays at Thanksgiving, families come together and enjoy a hearty meal, with turkey as the main course.
This celebration, which takes place on All Saints’ Eve, was originally a Celtic festival. It is very popular in North America. Children dress up—often as witches, ghosts or other fantasy characters and monsters—and go from house to house to collect candy. They knock on the doors of houses decorated with hollowed-out pumpkins that have faces carved into them and are lit up inside with a candle. Sometimes, people will decorate the fronts of their houses to look like sets from horror movies, with ghosts, spider webs, coffins and skeletons!
November 11: Remembrance Day
As in other countries, one minute’s silence is observed at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month (November) in Canada, to mark the armistice ending the First World War in 1918. Armistice Day is now called Remembrance Day. It is when we honour the some 100,000 Canadians who lost their lives while serving in the military, mainly in the two World Wars and the Korean War, but also in peacekeeping operations.
The official ceremony takes place in Ottawa. Attendees include the Prime Minister, the Governor General and the “Silver Cross Mother”, a mother who has lost one or more children serving in the military. The ceremony is broadcast live on the country’s national television networks. In the days leading up to November 11, Canadians are encouraged by the Royal Canadian Legion to wear a red poppy as a tribute to the fallen soldiers.
Christmas Day is a religious celebration marking the birth of Jesus. It is primarily a family celebration. On Christmas Eve, many Catholics attend midnight mass.While Christmas is a religious and family celebration, New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve tend to be more of an occasion between friends. Christmas and New Year’s Day, just like Boxing Day, are statutory holidays.