St. Jean Baptiste, Quebec’s National Holiday

With Quebec’s national holiday fast approaching, I decided to reflect upon what it means to be Quebecois and a Canadian. The celebrations that take place on June 24th across Quebec act as a reminder that being from Quebec, or living in Quebec, is a unique experience. Sadly, I came to realize that regardless of your religious beliefs, Quebec heritage and place of origin, it is difficult to feel truly part of the celebrations on our national holiday unless you are “pure laine” or at the very least, brought up in a French neighborhood at a French school.

Unless your mother tongue is “Quebec” French, the French community ostracizes you. This sad truth is a display of Quebecois insecurity with being different from the North American English community. Leading to the point that if you are not a “pure laine” you will not be embraced to the same extent at events.

In stark contrast, on St. Patrick’s day, Ireland’s national holiday, anyone can take part in the festivities regardless of their proximity to any Irish heritage. It is no mystery that Ireland and Quebec retain similarities; both were oppressed by the British, struggled to survive in a global community, possess their own unique culture and have similar rural origins. The difference is most visible in the way that they are capable of allowing people to be Irish on their national holiday. I distinctly remember a bunch of Irishmen in Brussells who demanded that my friend and I accompany them to a local Irish Pub. I had never really spent any time with people from Ireland and had only the stereotypes we see in movies: dancing on tables, singing, and drinking.

Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Promptly after arriving at the bar and ordering pints, we were singing and dancing. However, what struck me most was their welcoming attitude. They took in a couple of young, less than hip Canadians, for no particular reason. Somehow, I find this hard to imagine with a bunch of French Canadians doing the same, let alone on the National Holiday.

The main thrust of this brief cultural comparison is that Quebec should attempt to transform St. Jean Baptiste Day into a celebration of Quebec culture and values similar to that of St. Patrick’s day. It is true that St. Patty’s has become a reason for us to drink ourselves silly while we attend festive parades, but it also acts as a vessel to remind cities across the world of the existence of Ireland and the Irish people. Instead of promoting federalism in Quebec, perhaps we should promote Quebec in Canada and around the world.

Quebec has produced tremendous culture in the form of films, theatre, literature and music. The majority of high quality Canadian films come from Quebec. Tourists from around the world, and most notably from the United States come to visit our enclave of French liberalism. Many people have an idea of what Quebec is, great food, great culture and a certain “joie de vivre”; I am just not sure what Quebecois think Quebec is.

I recently listened to a sovereigntist radio station where they were debating the various merits of separation from Canada. It became quickly apparent that there was little to no consenus on why we should separate, how we should separate and what would happen afterwards. One guest suggested that a sovereign country would allow us to spend more money on social programs while another guest proposed that after a split, Quebec would have to become more economically right wing to show that we are capable of surviving on our own. Similar contradictions arose about Quebec’s possibilities regarding culture pre and post separation. More than disagreement, it was a display of a deep lack of understanding of what a sovereign state is, does and requires.

Most separatists simply want to separate on some fantasy that all will be better without a federal government, but fail to come to grips with the numerous problems that already exist at the provincial level and that we, as a community, have been unable to solve. They neglect to mention how they will build an army, embassies, and all the other responsibilities of the current Federal government. Sovereignty in and of itself is not necessarily a bad idea, but to be sovereign of Canada without a clear plan is.

Anyone in the third world would kill to come to Canada, let alone people in the first and second world. To separate from this great nation and try and improve on it, seems a little bit cocky. I also cannot stand the notion that two people, who do not share the same language cannot live and thrive together. If that were true, then perhaps Quebec should be separated into French and English enclaves where people can be at peace in their native tongue. Rather, it is the combination of French and English heritage that makes Quebec and Canada so strong. To give that up would destroy, not only Canada, but also Quebec.

Returning to the thrust of the essay; the idea that an English person cannot fully celebrate St. Jean Baptiste on June 24th is analogous to the concept that French and English Canadians cannot coexist. Our hesitancy to accept English-speaking Quebecers as Quebecers and French-speaking Quebecers as Canadians is not acceptable and is a pin in the Canada’s back. This pin, once removed, would allow us to move forwards with more power, drive and energy. We need start at a younger age and push the children more. We must encourage more exchanges between Quebec and other provinces, insist upon more French language courses at all Canadian schools and make French a prerequisite on all signs in Canada. Perhaps this year, French Quebecers can honor the memory of their patron saint and baptize all Canadians as Quebecers, if only for the the one day that is our national holiday.

Published on June 19, 2006