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Monday, February 18, 2008

The Story of Family Day

So, here it is, once again, Family Day in the province of Alberta. This little made-in-Alberta holiday is being celebrated for the 18th year. Just think! Albertans born 18 years ago have now been literally raised with Family Day. And, as I like to do every year on this day, I like to come here on my blog and remind people exactly why we celebrate Family Day.

It has long been argued that Canada needs a statutory holiday in February. It's believed that the break between New Years and Easter is far too long, and we need a long weekend in there to help get rid of what former Edmonton radio personality Bill Matheson referred to as "the February Blahs." Sadly, though, it's always been considered a low priority for the federal government.

But, thanks to Alberta, and it's "screw Ottawa! Let's do it oursevles," attitude, former Premier Don Getty decided to do something about it. For those who don't remember, Getty was the premier sandwiched between Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein...he's the George Lazenby of Alberta politics.

One of Getty's initiatives was to finally bring about a February holiday. the day chosen for this day was the third Monday in February. It's always been believed that that day was chosen because it's the same as the American holiday of President's Day. And, seeing as to how there's a lot of oil money in Alberta, all those American oil men in their offices in Calgary finally wanted to have President's Day off. So...third Monday in February.

But now, what do we call this holiday? What is our reason for celebrating? Well, around this time, Getty's son was busted for dealing cocaine, and tossed into prison. In a speech given at that time, Getty lamented that he never spent enough time with his family, and that if only people spent a little more time with their families, perhaps sons wouldn't get thrown into prison.

A few days later, it was announced that the holiday would be Family Day. And the joke began about how Getty wanted a day off to go visit his son in prison. I don't remember if it was ever officially announced that the Getty coke bust was a direct cause of the declaration of Family Day, but Wikipedia says it was.

However, what I do remember was the Family Day was actually quite controversial in its first few years. People were all like, "Family Day? Yeesh, that sounds like a made-up holiday if there ever was one." Those hard-workin' Albertans wanted to spend another day at work. Besides, since this is just a provincial holiday and not a nationwide one, this meant that a federal holiday had to be sacraficed. So long, August long weekend, which is now no longer recognized in Alberta!

Actually, I'm being melodramatic. How it works is that companies can choose to recognize either Family Day or the August Long Weekend as the paid holiday. For example, the federal government has chosen to recognize the August Long Weekend. That's why you'll find federal institutions, like the post office, open today. Or, if you're lucky, you'll work for a real cool company like mine, which recognizes both days as paid holidays. But I digress.

All I remember is that animosity towards Family Day was so strong in the beginning, that one of Ralph Klein's very first election promises was to abolish Family Day. But then, by the time Klein came to power, Family Day had been celebrated for around 5 years or so, and it was firmly entrenched in the Alberta culture. Besides, who wants to be known as a premier who abolishes holidays?

And that's why we celebrate Family Day. Because Alberta said so.

Actually, the concept of a February holiday is starting to catch on. Saskwatchewan celebrated its first Family Day last year. Ontario celebrates its first Family Day this year. Manitoba is also recognizing its first "third Monday in February" holiday this year, but they don't call it Family Day. They decided to conduct a province wide poll to figure out what the holiday should be called. So, today in Manitoba, they're celebrating the first Louis Riel Day.

But no matter where you are in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or Ontario, I hope you raise a glass and toast Don Getty and his coke dealing son for giving us this day.

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