Where “chilled” is more than just a temperature – it’s a state of mind…
Here in Canada, “the powers that be” recognize the restorative properties of a celebration and have worked hard to ensure they occur regularly throughout the year. Often at school there will be a Spirit Day, for no reason I can fathom other than the refreshing sight of everyone dressed as their favorite Disney character or in their pajamas.
This month, the humble groundhog takes the spotlight, as February 2nd is Groundhog Day, when people across America shun modern technology in favor of a buck-toothed rodent for prescient meteorological advice. Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day it’ll flee back to its burrow, heralding six more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t, it means spring’s just around the corner.Ontario’s famous Wiarton Willie (the Canadian answer to the U.S.’s famed Punxsutawney Phil – our Muhammad Ali to their George Foreman) didn’t see his shadow so, according to tradition, an early spring is on the way – if you discount Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam and Quebec’s laconically named Fred who both did. With live web streams of numerous furry prophets there’s no need for anyone to miss a single riveting minute of rodent-based revelry!
Personally I don’t know what to make of it all. My knowledge of mammalian weather forecasting extends to “If the cows are lying down, it’s going to rain.” Mind you, I haven’t seen any cows in Ontario to consult and I don’t know if their expertise runs to snow, or if it’s rain-related only!
Love is… a pack of 20
The next opportunity to indulge in the warm’n’fuzzies is Valentines Day. Largely ignored by schools in the UK, where pupils decide their own recipients of “luuuurve”, here it’s almost been absorbed into the curriculum where it’s used as a lesson in inclusion and kindness. Teachers request that if your child is going to send valentines, they send one to EVERY CHILD IN THE CLASS.
“Thank God for Dollarstore!” parents cry, where you can buy packets of 20 gift-tag sized cards specifically for this purpose, plus a big one for the teacher of course. It kind of defeats the traditional purpose of Valentines Day – common since fourteenth century Chaucer – as an expression of romantic love. Still, I suppose that angle somewhat excluded anyone who wasn’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t be having sex so this new direction is certainly more in keeping with Hallmark’s yearly projections.
And family comes first
Finally, as if all this excitement weren’t enough – we have Family Day, an entire twenty-four hours set aside to celebrate families and the importance of family life. It’s a provincial holiday, first observed in Alberta in 1990 and supposed to reflect the values of family and home that were important to the pioneers who founded the province. It was introduced in Saskatchewan in 2007, Ontario in 2008 and for the first time this year in British Columbia (although, to appear totally uninfluenced, B.C. are celebrating theirs a week before everyone else, which has the added bonus of giving the uninformed the impression they thought of it first!)
Schools and businesses are closed and, impervious to the sub-zero temperatures, people spend the time skating, playing hockey, snowboarding/skiing and going to various winter festivals where plenty of fresh air gives you an insatiable appetite for Beavertails and hot chocolate!
Unlike the UK, schools here don’t have half-term and end of term holidays, but we make up for it in other ways. Coming up in March we have what’s known as March Break, where schools close for a week giving families yet another opportunity for some R’n’R. Many head off to warmer climes for a little respite from snow pants and slush, and the chance to remember what their bodies look like without multiple layers of clothing. For those who don’t spend the time away, an abundance of camps and special programs can provide structure and learning in a fun environment – anything from sports camps to craft clubs, there’s something for everyone.
So all that’s left to say is, “Grab your toothbrush and come on over, the place is rockin’!”
Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations.
Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here.