Approaching our last American Thanksgiving holiday before the move to Malaysia, DIane and I plan on preparing one last home cooked turkey dinner for two. Because we’re a mixed marriage (she’s Canadian, I’m American), this marks our second Thanksgiving dinner this year. Taking the easy way out in October, we drove to a local Hofbrau on Columbus Day for our annual Canadian Thanksgiving dinner (shown in the picture below). Falling on a Monday like a normal three-day weekend, the Northern version is more of a harvest festival without Puritans, Indians, NFL football and annual parades presented by large department stores.
Discussing the nuances of life as an American expat in Canada in a recent post, we highlighted important issues like understanding insane weather forecasts in Celsius and why the world’s largest indoor mall plays an important role during the holidays. Learning the differences between Canadian and American holidays takes some education and after the sixth year I finally mastered what days I’d be home from the office. Facing a brand new set of challenges, I glanced at the 2015 Public Holidays in Penang and sadly, I’m bewildered by Hari Rya Day, Merdeka Day and two days of Chinese New Year. Unsure how to celebrate Thaipusm and Wesa Day, it occurred to me I’ll need complete retraining.
Unfortunately, I’m not able to comment on North American expat confusion in Malaysia at least until the 2015 holiday season. Alternatively, for my last holiday season in the Western Hemisphere I decided to post about my earlier expat life in Calgary and explain the twelve months of expat confusion for American expats in Canada. Meanwhile, I’d be eternally grateful if any North American expats living in Malaysia chime in with a return post helping me understand what public holidays are all about over there.
Somewhere in the peak of the American political correctness movement of the 1980’s, somebody in the government decided we needed a day off only a few weeks after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to commemorate Martin Luther KIng’s birthday. Arriving in Calgary it took me awhile to see any black people at all and I soon learned that Canadian black people are known as black, not African Canadians. Terminating in Canada, The Underground railroad went North anyway so Canadian politicians see no need for an extra holiday to celebrate tolerance towards black people. Already the least racist people in the North American continent, Canadians are kinder and gentler. Besides, the picture below is all you’d see if they gave a holiday in the middle of January and who needs an extra day to shovel out the car?
Living up to its stereotypical reputation of friendliness, only Canada would introduce a statutory holiday dedicated to families spending time with one another. Adopted by Alberta in 1990 by Lieutenant Governor Helen Hunley, many criticized it as an unnecessary financial burden during a recessionary period so they decided to do invent yet another holiday in August (discussed later) when the weather is better for employers who chose not to observe it. Refusing to be outdone, most other provinces decided to observe the third Monday in February also but gave it a funny name like Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, Nova Scotia Heritage Day and Islander Day in Prince Edward Island.
Naturally, Quebec refuses to follow anything the rest of Canada does so it’s a regular work day there as well as in the territories. Does anyone work up there anyway? Personally, as a long time employee of the financial services industry, it seemed too coincidental that they just happened to choose President’s Day. Coinciding with everything American with slight deviations is the Canadian way and with Canada’s largest winter playgrounds within its boundaries, it’s obvious this day is a ploy to get Americans up to the Canadian Rockies during their three-day winter weekend.
Religious calendars take precedence in March, depending on when Easter falls. Nobody in America has Good Friday off except the financial markets and maybe some schools. Supposedly a secular nation with a right to worship anything or nothing at all, the New York Stock Exchange claims the day is somehow not related to Christianity (which would be ridiculous since half the industry is run by Jewish people). Claiming they vote on the holiday every year, I figured Canada would be the same but surprisingly, I found almost everything in Alberta closed on Good Friday. Adding to the confusion even more, I found a small segment of the province celebrating Easter Monday as a holiday. Understanding non religious Jews know little to nothing about Christian holidays, even I knew that “Renewal Monday” is an Eastern Orthodox church event, yet officially over 75 countries list it as a public holiday including Canada. Who knew?
Although the only Jewishness in me is my love of chopped liver, gefilte fish and real pastrami, even I know that Passover is the Jewish version of Easter and often falls in April. Unfortunately, almost all the Jewish people in Canada live in Montreal so this was of no consequence to me whatsoever living in Alberta. Oddly enough, I worked a whopping three months one year at a small branch of BMO Nesbitt Burns, a Canadian brokerage firm in Calgary’s only predominantly Jewish neighborhood, which helped ease my expat confusion about the Kosher aisle in the local Safeway. Visiting Montreal one year I tasted their bagels, smoked meat and potato knishes and must warn any American expats moving to Canada that also happen to be New York Jews to expect a severe disappointment.
Canadians celebrate Memorial Day one week earlier than Americans and call it Victoria Day. Technically designated as a public holiday in honor of Queen Victoria’s birthday, it’s also the day that marks the reigning Canadian sovereign’s official birthday but not even government officials know what that means. Perhaps less confused by this holiday than others, it only took me one or two seasons to understand why Canadians push up the “unofficial start of summer” by one week. Also designated as the weekend when it’s almost safe to begin planting because it will probably only snow one more time, Canadians refer to the weekend simply as “May Long Weekend”.
Realizing only centenarians care even the smallest bit about a ceremonial Queen living in a nation across the ocean, I discovered the mandatory camping rule regardless of the snowstorm rule that almost all Albertans live by.
Perhaps the most useless and longest month as far as holiday celebrations go, it takes some digging to experience expat confusion in June. America has something called “Flag Day” on June 14th which is probably the most ridiculous name in the history of holidays for a nation of perpetual flag wavers. In a post 9/11 world, every day is Flag day in the USA and anyone with access to a television knows this. Originally designated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, he created the day during an era when desecration of flags and Communist propaganda was the norm and urged Americans to respect the flag but somehow that morphed into respecting the troops.
In the interest of the topic, I did find National Aboriginal Day in Canada. Celebrated by I don’t know who, it falls on June 21st and sadly, lack of respect for native people might be the closest thing Canadians have to home-grown racism.
Distinctively different from American Independence Day, Canadians celebrate their national day of Independence on July 1st. Commemorating the anniversary of The British North America Act of 1867, it marked the joining of the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec) into a kingdom. Oddly enough, Canada was never “free” from Britain until 1982 when they officially adopted The Constitution Act and enacted Canada’s version of the American Constitution known as The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Unable to understand what this really means, I quickly learned that most Canadians know more about the Amendments of the US Constitution than their own, probably due to Canada’s inability to generate any television programming worth watching. Unlike the USA, July 1st is the only day when its acceptable to wave your flag but Canadians like to celebrate an appreciation of diversity and freedoms much more than military actions which I find very refreshing.
Unable to convey how important an extra summer holiday is in a country that often has less than 60 days of pleasant weather all year, I referred to a website called “timeanddate.com” and not surprisingly, saw the following explanation on what people do on Heritage Day (also known as “Civic Holiday” and most commonly called “August Long Weekend”)
Canadians use the long weekend to go on out-of-town trips and to spend time with family and friends. Activities include camping trips, hiking tours or quiet retreats. Alberta’s Heritage Day must not be confused with Family Day, which falls on the third Monday of February in parts of Canada such as Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan
As you can probably tell by now, Alberta is the renegade province of Canada. enacting its own holidays when it sees fit. Having no real meaning other than needing an extra long weekend, this holiday confused me but once it’s drilled in your head, it’s very difficult to return to America and find the only ones celebrating this day are the 1% who take the entire month of August off, forcing the peons to pick up the slack.
Only one holiday per year besides Christmas falls simultaneously in both America and Canada but in the interest of always being “not American”, Canadians celebrate Labour Day with the British spelling. Hoping to avoid expat confusion in Malaysia I noticed they also celebrate Labour Day but it falls on May 1st, which means it’s May Day as far as North Americans know and has something to do with communism therefore Americans want no part of it. Canadians can’t push the “unofficial end of summer” any further than Labour Day because the first week in September also marks the annual first hard frost and occasionally the first snowfall.
Coinciding with September’s start of the nine months of Canadian winter, one doesn’t need Vulcan logic to understand the need for an early Thanksgiving while the path to the shed where the axe is kept is still reachable. Canadians decided to use American Columbus Day as Canadian Thanksgiving. Unlike the USA, it’s not the insane hectic travel nightmare Americans know nor does it feature NFL football, Thanksgiving Day parades or even dinner on Thanksgiving Day for that matter. Mostly a minor celebration that’s more practical since it falls on a Monday, it’s far enough away from Christmas that you’re not sick of returning for more family time only four weeks later.
Obviously we know American celebrate Thanksgiving in November so I used the other dual celebration holiday that both nations celebrate on November 11th as my expat confusion example. Like July 4th, Canadians use the day to remember the service and sacrifices of military personnel. Using a red poppy as the recognized symbol of remembrance for the war dead in Canada, I had no idea where the poppy story came from but every Canadian school child is well versed in the famous poem “In Flanders Field” and this website explains it better than someone brought up with an American understanding of how citizens should respect fallen heroes.
Concluding my first full year of American expat confusion, one of the best parts of living in Canada comes in December. Unlike America, where it’s prohibited by Congress for the financial markets to ever close more than three consecutive days due to the Empire’s ridiculous values of money before everything, Canadians celebrate Boxing Day on December 26th. Originally set aside as a day for servants of the British Colonial Empire to spend time with their families after a long day of Christmas servitude, it re-emerged as Canada’s version of Black Friday.
Mathematically speaking, however, the important thing for peon office workers unlucky enough to work in an industry that won’t take a week off the holidays is the four-day weekend that occurs two-thirds of any possible calendar year. Depending on when Christmas Day falls, the two-day holiday turns into four in the favorable years, allowing for extra time with family despite the inevitable request to rise at 3 AM and partake in a shopping extravaganza. My Boxing day post describes this in detail so please check back next month.
And that concludes the Experimental Expats First Annual Column of The Twelve Months Expat Confusion. Having devoted the 2014 version to American expats living in Canada, I’m confident I’ll be more than a little confused about almost everything once Diane and I arrive in Malaysia. Targeting late spring or early summer, please follow us over the next few months, understanding any lapses are probably due to my inability to craft quality posts on a tablet (which we don’t yet own owing to me being a House Husband with no current income).
Happy Thanksgiving day and Best Wishes to all North American Expats celebrating anywhere in the world !!
Coming on Black Friday:
Galapagos Islands – Day Two
Find Day One’s Adventure Here
Calling all expats in Malayisa: The Experimental Expats are looking to build a network of contacts to make our first few months easier. If you’re interested in meeting, please leave a comment or email us on our Contact Page