Note to regular readers: This is not a Drunken Mennonite blog post. I have finally struck out and written something that is not about Mennonites. Also, no cocktail recipe at the end of this post. Please feel free to go back and re-read your favorite Mennonite posts if that’s more to your taste. There’ll be more about Mennos soon.
This year, more people than ever, it seems, decided to not celebrate Canada Day. Many of these did so in protest and solidarity with Indigenous peoples who find little to celebrate in the Canadian nation state. Others have been lukewarm about the nation-state for years. I recently explained my own feeling to my sister-in-law by saying, “I don’t really do that patriotism stuff.” It’s like not doing drugs.
But while others have written about why celebrating Canada’s 150 is problematic, I was at a loss to find guidelines for all the people trying to plan their non-celebratory activities for July 1st. A friend of mine pointed this out to me a few days before Canada Day when I naively declared that, as I had basically been not celebrating Canada Day for years, I expected no difficulties. This year, she said, was different. Canada Day paraphernalia was everywhere – which is true – and any concerts or theatrical events that might seem attractive were tied in one way or another to Canada Day. You can’t even go to a cafe, she told me, without getting a Canada 150 cup.
I gotta admit, it hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to go to a cafe.
While this gave me pause, I was still convinced that I could get through the day by treating it as if it were any other Saturday and blithely ignoring all the flags and fireworks. I just needed to put a tiny bit of effort into it. I knew that simply not celebrating might not be a huge step in my efforts to decolonize myself but it was at least something. My friend was taking her efforts up a notch by planning to not only not celebrate but to also participate in one of the Unsettling 150 activities
I shuddered at the thought of crowds and determined to decolonize at home. In baby steps.
Most years I go about not celebrating Canada Day simply by thinking of it as any other day. I have often been at the cottage of my parents-in-law and I simply stayed there when other members of the family hopped in the car to experience the nationfest in Ottawa. Which was a pretty easy way to not celebrate even though it is true that a Canada Day excursion to a cottage in the land of lakes and trees is a pretty cliched Canadian summertime celebratory activity.
This year, I’m in the city. Naturally, I decided to spend most of the time at home. To be on the safe side, I even avoided shopping in those stores that remained open on holidays for fear that they would offer me special Canada Day sales. The parks near me were also off-limits – having been planted with red and white flowers this year, I deemed them too likely to host impromptu neighbourhood Canada Day gatherings.
It wasn’t much of a plan but I still thought I was safe.
I was not.
Canada Day crept into my consciousness just shortly after sunrise. I had unwittingly left a window open and, upon coming downstairs in the morning, was greeted almost immediately by the sound of a neighbour outside my window wishing another neighbour a Happy Canada Day.
I determined not to leave the house by my front door.
After that, things got easier for awhile.
Since I was meaning to spend the day like any other Saturday, I had come to the conclusion that it would be a good day for washing the windows or weeding the garden. It is part of my Saturday routine to have a number of house and garden activities planned – I then spend the day feeling guilty about not doing any of them. I achieved this quite easily with the help of a novel and a pot of tea. I even had a bit of spare time to feel guilty about not baking a cake for an upcoming birthday event.
So far, an almost regular Saturday.
I checked in with my friend and her partner who were also not celebrating that day. They had succeeded in forgetting the significance of the day to such an extent that they had attempted an errand to the bank and had considered a liquor store excursion.
I was in awe of their commitment.
While they headed downtown to find a means of showing solidarity with the Indigenous protesters, I settled into my own decolonization efforts. This had begun with my novel-reading-as-housework-avoidance scheme since I had chosen a Drew Hayden Taylor novel with which to pass the morning. After I finished that, I sat down with my daughter to watch a couple episodes of Mohawk Girls (it had started raining at that point, so washing windows or gardening was justifiably postponed) and then listened to half an episode of a Metis in Space podcast. If I can decolonize myself through comedy, I’m on my way.
After returning from their civic activity, my friends texted an invitation to join them for food and an evening of board games. We all knew this was dangerous territory. Getting together with friends for dinner was suspiciously like a celebration.
First, there was the problem of food.
Typically, unless we are eating out someplace close to Parliament Hill, Canadians eat barbecue on Canada Day. While it is true that we eat barbecue on a lot of days that are not Canada Day as well, to truly not celebrate Canada Day, I thought we ought to forgo barbecue. After all, any neighbours who aren’t at their cottages or doing other Canada Day activities might notice and invite themselves over in the mistaken belief that we were hosting a Canada Day barbecue. Which could get awkward.
I also declared that we needed to avoid any foods that are in any way tied to the Canadian national identity – like poutine, nanaimo bars, butter tarts, ketchup potato chips, or Kraft dinner. Unless we could manage to eat these foodstuffs ironically. My friends appeared tolerant of my demands but when I arrived with my run-of-the-mill, everyday sort of potato salad, they were preparing food for the barbecue. Food fit for a celebration, in fact. Perhaps they were being ironic. At least there weren’t any butter tarts.
Even before the non-celebration, mind, I needed to leave the house and find my way to my friends’ – something like a ten-minute walk away. I knew that it would be difficult to ignore Canada Day while on this walk. There were houses festooned with Canada flags and revelers wandering about.
Well, there weren’t really that many revelers in my part of town. I think most people were off at their cottages. But I did meet a couple of men who crossed my path and enthusiastically wished me a Happy Canada Day. Indigenous men, by the looks of them. Having spent the morning reading Drew Hayden Taylor, I had the Trickster on my mind as they greeted me and it seemed too perfect.
“Ha,” I thought. “I see what you’re up to.”
We don’t have a lot of stories of tricksters in my heritage. Had I met a fellow Settler with the same background as me, I might have objected to “Happy Canada Day” Or I might have nonchalantly pretended to have forgotten the day. Instead, I had to admit that the trick was a good one. And so I smiled and threw their best wishes back to them as we went our separate ways.
Once the problems around food and actually leaving the house were sorted, my friends and I needed to work to keep the tone non-celebratory. On the one hand, there was no requirement that not celebrating Canada Day meant having no fun. As we would enjoy each other’s company on any other Saturday, there was no reason we couldn’t do so on July 1st. On the other hand, the evening was already dangerously close to what I might choose to do were I actually celebrating something.
We didn’t completely resolve this quandary but we did manage to distract ourselves with board games pretty much to the point of forgetting the day until the sun had fully set and bombs and gunfire started up behind their house. Er, I mean, fireworks. It was the final failure of the day. I had thought about this beforehand and had planned to play loud music late into the evening to disguise the gunpowder celebrations. But that was before board games and a regular Saturday night conversation with friends came along.
Not celebrating – it takes vigilance.