Not that I blame them. There’s a lot of confusion about it.
July 1st in Ottawa is quite possibly one of the most distressing things I’ve had dumped upon me. I can only imagine how much worse this is for Anishnaabeg, including those people who’ve erected a tipi on the commons of parliament hill. They’re in ceremony while the strange party thing goes on around them. Some artists refused to sound check while speakers took turns at the microphone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our holidays – our Holy Days – and what they’ve become. Something has definitely changed from my childhood. Holy days are sacred, by definition, regardless of what belief system they belong to, they indicate something that connects an individual in the present day and age to important lives and events in their collective belief system. Births of prophets and saviours, victories and foundings. These also tie us to the environment around us, at full Moons, the Equinox, migrations of certain animals, planetary motion, and so on.
What makes a day Holy is that it stands outside the everyday: the sacred and mundane (of this world). This usual entails changing the environment by wearing special clothing, putting up special decorations, attending gatherings, and so on that are out of the ordinary. That’s why some people wear tuxedos, and others wear masks. Most calendars tie themselves to the seasons, and so the holidays are tied to particular times of year. The Islamic Hijra calendar is a notable exception: it consists of 12 lunar months (about 354 days) without any tie to the seasons of the year.
There’s this whole red and white Canada celebration thing going on. The date of confederation was July 1st 1867, and so this is the 150th anniversary, which is only has slightly more significance than making a big deal out of the 125th had. It’s often called Canada’s birthday, but, really, it’s not.
It’s not a Holy Day, that much is certain. I’ve heard any number of suggestions for Canada’s birthday, and each and every one of them is some feat of bureaucracy: confederation, the constitution, etc. All but the one Holy Day that Canadians commemorate, at least in Ottawa: November 11th 1918. Next year is the centennial, and you’ll see what a Holy Day looks like to Canadians. There’s a somber mood, to remember all the lives lost during wars in which the nation participated, and in which the people that went defined how the world saw us. We entered as British and exited as Canada, regardless of when the bureaucracy caught up.
But the symbolism of November 11th, it’s powerful. Everyone wears that poppy. Seeing as it was the flower that grew out of the carnage of the churned mudfields. People get really upset if they start to see Christmas decorations up before November 12th. Someone pissed on the war memorial, and within days they surrendered due to the amount of public outrage. It’s a sacred site.
Keep this in mind as the city of Ottawa and government of Canada are developing an Anishnaabeg Sacred Site, Asinabka, not 3 km from parliament. Because condos, for some reason. If they proposed building them on the War Memorial, how do you think that would go over? Let’s think about supporting one another by comparing what is meaningful to us, and why. It might help us relate better, and come to each other’s side, to share what’s important. It’s a good way to understand someone better.
The other days that were once sacred have been completely and utterly taken over by commerce. The more I think on it, the more I realize that the stories that commerce tells are superficial, whereas sacred stories, those we tell around the holidays, are deep with meaning. When commerce takes over, the meaning is drained out of it in the interest of material consumption. They all involve sugar in many forms including chocolate and booze.
I realized that this was a problem last year when I saw Valentine’s day decorations in the store before Christmas. The holidays had caused time to warp.
I think one of the fundamental problems that has lead to more difficulty is the absence of meaning in so much of what surrounds us. Our architecture doesn’t say much, because it isn’t designed according to symbolic principles, but ones dictated by economic influences.
One last thing about July 1st – it’s the first day of July, the month named after Julius Caesar. I often hear this dismissed as a trifle, but then again, I hear the same thing when I bring up the effect of the Moon’s gravity on us. Invisible forces affect us, and it is critically important that we learn how to negotiate them.