It’s the season of birthdays and, like most holidays — personal and collective — the anticipation of such events often fosters expectations so lofty the reality of the celebration has little chance to live up to its hype. Birthdays, of course, have to carry the added baggage of marking the passage of time, which is pretty much the point of birthdays. Call it the one-day-older-and-deeper-in-debt syndrome if you need to label it but it mostly amounts to a gnawing discomfort at the passage of time and the shockingly bigger number you’re celebrating this year than the one you celebrated last year, which has had a whole year to lose its shock value.
141 is a shockingly big number. Smaller than 232 for sure, and way smaller than some of the old and ancient world celebrations that range up into the thousands. Nonetheless, Happy Birthday Canada; Happy Birthday USA. Many happy returns… or, at least in the case of the USA, happier than this year’s, tinted as it is by the twin funks of presidential politics and the uneasy feeling the entire country is circling the bowl.
Canada Day, a suitably modest if terminally unimaginative moniker for our national holiday of Self, was particularly sweet this year. Canada Day was sunny where I celebrated and that’s a feat whose statistical probability generally hovers around the same range as a fair to middling professional baseball player’s batting average. It brought to mind my very first Canada Day which clinched my suspicion that my adopted country was every bit as weird as I was.
Having struggled through my first Montreal winter, including as it did my first experience with multiple days of -40° temperatures, the slushfest of spring and the totally unexpected sight of normally modest, staid Canadians virtually peeling down to nekkedness on the day the thermometer finally topped +20°C, I was really looking forward to seeing how Canadians celebrated their national day of being.
I saw several things that year I’d never seen before and learned a great deal about the spirit, grit and collective weirdness of the people who had welcomed me to their world even after conducting an investigation into my background. I watched grown men gather around a barbecue and diligently sear hamburgers and hot dogs to the point of immolation… notwithstanding a persistent drizzle of rain that threatened to douse the best efforts of a gas grill. I nearly froze to death on the first day of July. I listened with rapt fascination to a group of intelligent people earnestly discuss what it means to be Canadian… without ever reaching a conclusion or anything that even the most optimistic diplomat would consider a consensus. I saw a woman eat a hamburger with a fork and knife. I exploded my first Safety Firework.