Posted at Americas Quarterly on July 8, 2010
In recent weeks, there have been celebrations of what are called “National Holidays” in the U.S. (July 4), Canada (July 1) and Québec (June 24). People gather in a festive way, take a well-earned moment of rest and praise the joys of living in societies that clearly are the envy of the world.
While each can claim its own reason for the holidays, it is interesting to observe how each celebrates and why. On the Fourth of July, I attended the stunning fireworks display along the Hudson River in New York City where families and friends gathered in authentic camaraderie to acknowledge the birth of America and its undying love of freedom. What impressed me was the relaxed atmosphere in a city that has had its share of pain and tragedy. People of diverse backgrounds coming together to celebrate what America is and what it can be—it was truly inspiring.
In Canada, celebrations are usually more subdued as communities cherish moments together in the sunshine (hopefully!) and take in a quiet sense of pride and accomplishment with a picnic or attend a parade full of maple leaf flags. In the Canadian national anthem, the words ring out loud and clear: “the True North, strong and free.” All Canadians take solace in the resonance of these words throughout the land.
Québec’s national holiday was originally associated with the celebration of the patron saint of French Canadians, Saint-Jean Baptiste. In 1977, it became known as la Fête Nationale, the national holiday of all Quebecers. Québec therefore commemorates its identity and history as a people.
A rich history, shared values and three centuries of survival and affirmation have made Québec a unique part of Canada and North America. Large gatherings of citizens in a joyful and often artistic atmosphere celebrate the mix of French heritage and the presence of diverse cultures as well as the accomplishments of Québec over the years.
What struck me this year from my new vantage point in New York City is more what we share—a democratic system of government, charters of rights and freedoms, the biggest trading partnership in the world, common prosperity, and a commitment to make the world a better and more peaceful place. Surely, there are critics on both sides of the 49th parallel who will see things differently. But at the end of the day, we all want to improve the lot of others and we do cherish above all a love of freedom and the belief that each individual can make a difference. That is why these national holidays are worth celebrating this year and in the years ahead.