Sunday, February 15, 2009

Holidays...gotta love'em!!

It will come as no surprise to many, but I love holidays. Yes, I know I am a teacher and get loads, but it doesn't diminish my love for them at all. And it's not just because I am a slacker to the N-th degree (although that argument can be made) that I love'em so. Mostly I love them because of the general good feelings of everyone that surround the times when we don't have obligations outside of family get-togethers, eating, and relaxing. People are easier to deal with, there is more smiling at work, in the store, on the road, just about everywhere you go. And those feelings should not be under-estimated, especially in these 'tough' economic times.

But my current travels have got me thinking about holidays even more than usual. The newest holiday in Ontario is Family Day , being celebrated on Monday, February 16 - celebrated with Alberta and Saskatchewan...and by extension Manitoba with their celebrating Louis Riel Day -giving Ontario a grand total of nine holidays, which is slightly above the average of eight for the rest of Canada (Saskatchewan and NWT get 10, Nova Scotia only 6), but well below other places I have visited and celebrated.

Ecuador gets to celebrate a wonderful 16 holidays nationwide. And if you were to live in Sri Lanka, you'd get a whole year's worth of holidays in Canada on top of that, for a smile-inducing 27 public holidays. It is no wonder when I visited in 2006, Sri Lankans everywhere were smiling and hosipitable beyond measure - I can honestly say I've never been anywhere where the locals have been anything but hospitible, but Sri Lanka stands above them all. Is it the holidays?? I think so.

For both Ecuador and Sri Lanka, the numbers are bigger because of the multi-day celebrations, turning their holidays into true festivals. Times the whole country gets together and lets off a little steam. This is especially important for Ecuador as the country is experiencing tough economic times that make Canada's situation look like...well, look like a holiday. And then you've got the civil war in Sri Lanka that keeps citizens indoors and fearful at all times, that any excuse to gather and share time with family and friends is not only welcomed, but needed.

And then in my current country of exploration, South Korea, we seem to have the opposite - at least this year. See, while the Koreans do get 13 public holidays, the rub is, if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, there is no extra day tacked on - of course a lot of Koreans work Saturdays, but I do not. And 2009 is going to be one of those years work-aholics dream of, as only Children's Day in May falls during the week in the next six months. One holiday for six months?? Yikes.

But this comes from a country where students go to school six days a week, for six hours a day. They then finish their day with another three-plus hours at academies doing extra stuff like English, Math, Science, and even a study hour. And then, during the much beloved school holidays (essentially January and August here), what do the kids do? They go to those same academies for three or four hours each day.

And the teachers I work with? They got annoyed when I took my contracted five days in December to go visit Beijing. I later learned, Korean teachers don't get the same benefits as me, in fact, they don't get anything. Not one extra day off of work. Nothing. Two teachers I work with haven't had a day off outside of the public holidays for four years!! I feel sick for them.

But more than just time away from school and work (or not as the case may be), holidays can also serve a great way to educate others and ourselves about our country, they can also provide a unique economic stimulus (yes, I'm using this buzz word on purpose) for these trying times.

In Ecuador, days of independence are celebrated for the various cities, giving you the idea that their struggle for freedom from colonialism was brutal and is woven into the fabric of the people much more than that of our southern neighbours (who have 11 days off by the way). But with all the celebrations, national and religious, people are much more aware of their country, its history, and the role people (and by extension, they) play in shaping their country. Plus the little extra money spent on the parties et al., and you've got yourself a tidy little boost to the sagging economy.

Take this in contrast to many Canadians not knowing much of our history or even the way our current government works (or does not). How about the fact that Koreans see South Korea as the least desirable nation in Southeast Asia to visit outside of China and North Korea!? How would they know? They never get to leave.

Holidays, even the short long-weekend can encourage people to get out and spend some time and money on things they may not normally, without missing the mortgage payment. A trip to a counsin's house, or a quick getaway to cottage county brings your money to place it doesn't normally go. Or it gives you the opportunity for a day of skiing you've wanted to take but haven't found the time. Couple that with the opportunity to maybe learn a little about the history and culture of a nation (or your neck of the woods) and you've got ingredients for a good time.

In Canada, we can start by making Rememberance Day a national holiday (joing British Columbia who already celebrates it). I disagree making important days holidays lessens their impact, and in fact can serve to give more reason to remember why we celebrate such a day in the first place.

Second, lets make Canada Day a true celebration, extending it to the 3rd of July just for fun. A time when Canadians from all over the country and the world, go home and celebrate the founding of our wonderful nation with BBQ's and fireworks (who doesn't love a good BBQ and some fireworks??).

And lastly, since we thankfully don't have the bloody history many other nations do, we can look at celebrating something uniquely Canadian, our environment. As the second largest nation in the world we have a lot of environment to celebrate, and it's impact on us in engrained, from freezing winters to wonderfully (sometimes oppresive ) hot summers. So let's take three days in June to celebrate the summer solstice with street parties and outdoor activities, and then another three in December to hide from the winter solstice. No one wants to work at that time anyways and the kids are already out of school.

These additional days will also help save those precious holiday days we've saved up, allowing us to extend our time away. And maybe, just maybe, it will encourage us to get out and explore everything our wonderful country has to offer....and doing it with a smile on their face.

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