Thanks to Premier Christy Clark, British Columbians are finishing up their final day of a four-day work week, which is enough to put an extra spring in anybody’s step.
Last Monday, British Columbia enjoyed its first Family Day.
Now, Family Day isn’t a new idea. Alberta celebrated its first Family Day in 1990, and the idea was kicking around in B.C. in the early ’90s with the Liberals. It was consistently rejected by the Campbell government, but it has now seen the light of day, thanks to Clark’s promise in the 2011 leadership race to establish a mid-February holiday.
B.C. now joins Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario as provinces that celebrate Family Day in February. (Manitoba and P.E.I. celebrate provincial holidays in February as well, but they are Louis Riel Day and Islander Day, respectively.)
I eagerly embraced the idea of a provincial holiday in February — not because I have any particular use for the benignly named Family Day, but because despite being the shortest month of the year, February is always one long, slow, agonizing slog. Family Day happily interrupts the cold winter void between New Year’s Day and Easter, good enough for me.
So I was surprised — although I shouldn’t have been — when I realized that there were actual, you know, celebrations happening last Monday. Children received discounts on the local ski hills and free passage on B.C. Ferries voyages. In Victoria, the day-long celebrations included concerts at Ship Point, face-painting, scavenger hunts and tours of HMCS Saskatoon.
I celebrated Family Day by waking up at noon, steadfastly refusing to change out of my sweatpants and calling my parents to commiserate over the latest episode of Downton Abbey — but to each their own.
But it got me thinking. From the description I gave above, it would seem as though “family” is really only referring to families with young children. All these activities and discounts are geared toward children. And that is, I think, the way the majority of us think of families.
Whenever I hear “family” (at least in a generic context, like the phrase Family Day), my first visual impression is never of my own familial collection (parents, brother, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins of various degrees of removal) but of the stereotypical heterosexual foursome, with a mom and a dad and two young kids.
This understanding of the word “family” is reflected in our language, as well. Family movies are movies that are safe for children, if not explicitly geared toward them. The term family-friendly means no swearing or vulgarity — which again is referring to children, and stands in stark contradiction to the lived experiences of most of the families I know, with or without children.
Yet while married couples are still the dominant structure among Canadian families, Statistics Canada census data show these numbers are decreasing. Common-law couples and single-parent households are both on the rise, but what I find even more interesting — and kind of neat — is that the number of households that consist of couples with children is decreasing.
For the first time in history, in 2006 Stats Canada counted more households that consisted of childless couples than households that consisted of couples with children. Even more interestingly, for the first time, in 2011 there were more one-person households than households with children aged 24 and under.
With this in mind, I like that the B.C. Family Day blog includes Family Day activities such as “a special evening out at your favourite local bistro, a visit to your local recreation centre, art gallery or museum, a day of browsing the shops, or maybe getting outdoors and enjoying some winter sport.”
This is, first and foremost, a bald attempt to encourage us to get out there and start spending money. (For those looking for the “meaning” of Family Day, look no further.) Yet this wording also acknowledges the fact that for many Canadians, family no longer must include 2.7 children, a dog and a white picket fence — though, of course, that is still the ideal for many. We’re starting to come around to the idea that a childless couple (married or unmarried) or a parent and child are just as valuable family units as a nuclear one.
And I take it as a good sign that the language our government uses to promote this new holiday reflects that.
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