Just forget the words and sing along

Monday, February 20, 2006

Happy Family Day!

I always like to take a moment on Family Day to point out the history of the holiday, mainly because it's a blatantly manufactured holiday, and I was around for the manufacturing. Plus, it serves as an introduction to Alberta to non-Albertans. When I was doing my practicum at K-Rock last year, we started getting a lot of notices for the events for the "February Long Weekend." The newly-hired announcer-from-Ontario once remarked to me, "Gee, that's weird. We don't get Valentine's Day off back home...." So I had to explain that Valentine's Day is not a holiday in Alberta. But, instead, we have our own special holiday called Family Day.

It has long been argued that Canada needs a statutory holiday in February. It's been said that a day off would be a helpful deterrent against seasonal affected disorder. (Or, as one beloved Edmonton radio announcer used to call it, "the February blahs.") Besides, the gap between New Year's Day and Easter is just far too long for, well, everyone. While the occassional backbencher stands up and talks about making a "Prime Ministers Day," there have never been any serious plans from Ottawa to form a February holiday. So, in the grand Alberta tradition of "if Ottawa won't do it, we'll do it ourselves," the Tory Government of Don Getty brought about the Family Day Act.

People started growing suspicious of Family Day when they first saw the day chosen - the third Monday in February. See, Family Day coincides with the American holiday of Presidents Day. Well, that is no coincidence. As we know, a lot of American oil companies do business in Alberta, and a lot of those American oil companies have their Canadian offices in Calgary. The Americans working in those Calgary offices used to grumble that they didn't get Presidents Day off because they were in Canada. So, bowing to pressure from the oil companies, the third Monday in February was chosen as "the new, Alberta-only holiday."

I also think a lot of opposition came about because of the name. "Family Day." Seriously, doesn't that sound made-up? What, was "Love Day" taken? But no, the intent of Family Day was to be a day off for people to celebrate - and spend time with - the family. When the first Family Day was celebrated in 1990, a mini-scandal errupted when Don Getty's son was arrested on charges of dealing cocaine. A popular joke at the time was that Getty just wanted a day off to go visit his son in prison.

And besides, look at the time at when Family Day came about. Taking a day off to spend time with the family seemed to fly in the face of the workaholic, "greed is good" mentality of the 1980s. Indeed, the opposition at the time was simply from yuppies going, "Why do I want another day off when I could be working?"

The most compelling argument though came from the Alberta Teachers Association. Yes, the ATA opposed Family Day. They went to the government and said, "Look, we always have our 2-day teachers convention in February, giving a 4-day weekend. Lots of families plan vacations for that 4-day weekend. So, really, there's already a 4-day Family Weekend in February."

But, the Family Day Act was passed, and the first Family Day was celebrated on February 19, 1990. Opposition was still strong in those early years. In fact, when Ralph Klein was elected as Getty's successor in 1992, one of Klein's first promises was to abolish Family Day. But, you know, by that time, people had warmed up to the idea of a February long weekend. And besides, who really wants to be known as the premier who abolishes holidays?

This is the 16th Family Day now, and it's become firmly entrenched in the Alberta culture. If you look around, you'll find the requisite pancake breakfasts and all kinds of Family Day activities in your community. So, dude, get out there, and enjoy your day off!

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