Updated: Nov 1, 2020
We know our annual list of public holidays, now here’s some dope on their significance- why we have them, their historical and cultural context, and other interesting facts.
National Public Holidays and Other Important Dates:
(As published in Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship)
New Year’s Day January 1
Sir John A. Macdonald Day January 11
Good Friday Friday immediately preceding Easter Sunday
Easter Monday Monday immediately following Easter Sunday
Vimy Day April 9
Victoria Day Monday preceding May 25 (Sovereign’s birthday)
Fête nationale (Quebec) June 24 (Feast of St. John the Baptist)
Canada Day July 1
Labour Day First Monday of September
Thanksgiving Day Second Monday of October
Remembrance Day November 11
Sir Wilfrid Laurier Day November 20
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
• New Year’s Day, January 1:
Simply put, to celebrate new beginnings, to signify hope that the new year would be better than the one/s before. With CoViD-19 upending 2020, 2021 has got to be better than 2020 !
Also, typically a continuation of Christmas celebrations.
• Sir John A. Macdonald Day, January 11:
Sir John Alexander Macdonald, a Father of Confederation and Canada’s first Prime Minister was born on January 11, 1815, in Scotland.
As the first prime minister of Canada- the Dominion of Canada, he oversaw its expansion from sea to sea.
In 2002 Parliament recognized January 11 as Sir John A. Macdonald Day.
• Good Friday, Friday immediately preceding Easter Sunday:
The day when Christians commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, on this day Jesus was flogged, crowned with thorns, ordered to carry the cross to Golgotha, then crucified on the same cross and, on it he died.
Easter Sunday is the day on which, according to the Bible, Jesus was resurrected from death. Easter Sunday is therefore a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
• Easter Monday, Monday immediately following Easter Sunday:
The Monday after Easter Sunday.
• Vimy Day, April 9:
Our national day of remembrance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, from the First World War.
Vimy Ridge was a high strategic strong point near the town of Arras in northern France, that the Canadian Corps captured in April 1917.
More than 10,000 Canadians were killed or wounded, though.
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial stands as a tribute to all who served their country, particularly to those who gave their lives.
• Victoria Day, Monday preceding May 25 (Sovereign’s birthday):
A day celebrating the Sovereign’s birthday: Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819.
The Sovereign's birthday has been celebrated in Canada since the reign (1837-1901) of Queen Victoria. If the 24th of May falls on a Monday, the holiday is on that Monday. Otherwise, Victoria Day is celebrated with a holiday on the Monday immediately before the 25th of May.
• Fête nationale (Quebec), June 24 (Feast of St. John the Baptist):
Celebrated in a very big way in Quebec, where it is known as la Saint-Jean or la Fête nationale du Québec, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day was a religious celebration, a day to remember St. John the Baptist, a Christian saint and Jesus’ cousin brother.
It took a more patriotic turn in 1834 though, and since 1977 the 24th of June has been celebrated as Fête nationale du Québec, definitively distancing it from religion.
Various francophone communities outside Quebec, across Canada also celebrate Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.
• Canada Day, July 1:
The Dominion of Canada was officially born on July 1, 1867.
Until 1982, July 1 was celebrated as “Dominion Day” to commemorate the day that Canada became a self-governing Dominion. Today it is officially known as Canada Day, the birthday of the country that we know today.
The British Parliament passed the British North America Act, also called Constitution Act, in 1867. Three British colonies in North America—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada—were united as “one Dominion under the name of Canada.”
• Labour Day, First Monday of September:
Labour Day, the first Monday in September, has been a statutory holiday in Canada since 1894.
It originated in the first workers’ rallies of the Victorian era and then promoted working-class solidarity during the time of rapid industrialization. Today, many Canadians devote the Labour Day holiday to leisure activity and family time.
• Thanksgiving Day, Second Monday of October:
Indigenous peoples in North America (Canada included, ofcourse) have a history of celebrating the fall harvest with communal feasts.
This predates the arrival of European settlers who are known to have first celebrated Thanksgiving in North America, in 1578. This initial Thanksgiving ceremony was to celebrate and give thanks for their safe arrival in what is now Nunavut.
The first American Thanksgiving- the Pilgrims’ celebration of their first harvest in Massachusetts happened only in 1621, by the way.
The Thanksgiving holiday is no longer restricted to harvest activities, and has become a day for gathering family to give thanks for their general well-being.
• Remembrance Day, November 11:
Every November 11 Canadians remember the sacrifices of our veterans and brave fallen in all wars up to the present day in which Canadians took part.
It was originally called “Armistice Day” to commemorate armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.- on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
At this precise time Canadians observe a moment of silence to honour the sacrifices of over a million brave men and women who have served and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict and peace, and the more than 110,000 who have given their lives for us.
• Sir Wilfrid Laurier Day, November 20:
Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s birthday. He was born on 20th November 1841, in St-Lin, (then) Canada East.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier became the first French-Canadian prime minister (1896–1911) of the Dominion of Canada.
At a time of radical change and worsening cultural conflict, Laurier fervently promoted national unity. Laurier also promoted the development and expansion of the country, encouraging immigration to Western Canada, supporting the construction of another transcontinental railway, and overseeing the addition of two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
• Christmas Day, December 25:
Festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s son according to Christian belief.
Initially a purely Christian celebration, Christmas today is more a secular family holiday observed by Christians and non-Christians alike which, over time, has become devoid of Christian elements.
In this secular Christmas celebration Santa Claus plays a pivotal role. In one night, on Christmas eve, Santa circumnavigates the globe flying his reindeer-pulled sleigh at super-speed and presents children everywhere with gifts. Santa Claus lives in the North Pole and, his address is:
Christmas is also marked by an increasingly elaborate exchange of gifts.
• Boxing Day, December 26:
The day after Christmas.
Though a day for Santa Claus to catch his breath after his round-the-world journey delivering gifts, for some reason it is a public holiday in a number of countries.