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The Fête nationale du Québec ("Quebec National Holiday") is the official day of Quebec, a province of Canada. The festivities occur on June 23 and June 24 and are organized by the Comité organisateur de la fête nationale ("national holiday organizing committee"). Originally, June 24 was a holiday honouring the patron saint of Canada, St. John the Baptist. The day still is in fact very often called la Saint-Jean by the population of Quebec.

Although the holiday only has official status in Quebec, it is also celebrated by francophones in other Canadian provinces and in the United States as a festival of French Canadian culture. In these contexts, it is more often called Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.

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Origins

The origins of the traditional festivities are more than 2000 years old. Among several European peoples, the summer solstice was the object of pagan celebrations. Fires were lit during the night in this period of the year when the days are longest. With the arrival of Christianity, the celebration of the event remained; however, it took a new spiritual significance. The celebration of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste was a very popular event in the France of the Ancien régime, and it is celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark.

The tradition landed in North America with the first French colonists. According to the Jesuit relations, the first celebrations of this Christian day in New France took place around 1638.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day

In Lower Canada, the celebration of Saint-Jean-Baptiste day took a patriotic tone in 1834 on the initiative of one of the founders of the newspaper La Minerve, Ludger Duvernay, who would later become the first president of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. In the spring of 1834, Duvernay and other Patriotes attended the celebrations of the first St. Patrick's Day in Montreal. This would have given him and others the idea of organizing something similar for all the Canadiens and their friends.

In 1834 George-Étienne Cartier's "Ô Canada! mon pays, mes amours" was first sung during a grand patriotic banquet gathering about sixty Francophones and Anglophones of Montreal in the gardens of lawyer John McDonnell, near the old Windsor station. The Canada of the song is of course French Canada (Lower Canada), today southern Quebec. Present at this banquet are many reformist politicians such as O'Callaghan, Perrault, Brown, Rodier, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and mayor of Montreal Jacques Viger.

Following the defeat of the Patriotes Rebellion and the military repressions which followed, the day was no longer celebrated for several years.

In 1843, Duvernay established the charitable Association Saint-Jean Baptiste in order to have the Saint-Jean Baptiste celebrated that year. The association was chartered in 1849 with the mission of promoting social and moral progress. (See Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society.)

The celebrations were supported by the Catholic church and started to be primarily religious around that time. Fires were still lit at night, but also the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste parades were organized. They became an important tradition over time. The procession of allegorical floats was introduced in 1874. From 1914 to 1923 the processions were not held.

For the June 24 of 1880, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste society organized the gathering of all francophone communities across North America. The event was called the Convention nationale des Canadiens français. On this occasion, the citizens Quebec City were the first ones to hear the "Ô Canada" of Calixa Lavallée. It quickly became popular and was selected as the national anthem of French Canada by the St-Jean-Baptiste Society. (English words were later written, and the song achieved popularity in the rest of the country. In 1980 "O Canada" became the official national anthem of Canada. Prior to this date, there was no official anthem specific to the Dominion of Canada.)

In 1908, Pope Pius X designated John the Baptist as the patron saint of the French-Canadian nation.

After the Quiet Revolution, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day became very political. The religious symbolism associated with the celebrations was rejected by the younger generations.

In 1968, an incident occurred during the traditional St-Jean-Baptiste parade. With the new Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in attendance on the eve of a general election, a riot broke out, and 290 people were arrested. Trudeau was filmed refusing to take cover or leave the grandstand when the rioters pelted it with rocks, as well as bottles containing paint and acid. The scene was broadcast on Radio-Canada's and CBC's evening news. Many saw it as an open act of courage, and it impressed the electorate. The incident contributed to his Liberal Party winning a significant majority the next day.

In 1969, the little St. John the Baptist icon was destroyed during a riot. This led to the interruption of the parade, which did not take place the next year.

The Fête nationale

In 1977, a ministerial decree of the government of René Lévesque made June 24 the national holiday of Quebec. The following year, the Comité organisateur de la fête nationale was created. The committee initially entrusted the organization of the events to the St-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montréal. In 1984, the organization was entrusted to the Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste day thus became the day of all Quebecers rather than only those of French-Canadian origins (approx. 74 per cent of Quebecers). Mainly by the actions of the St-Jean-Baptiste Society and the Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois, the celebrations were gradually secularized and June 23 and 24 became what they are nowadays.

Today, the Fête nationale is a popular cultural festival celebrating the achievements and diversity of Quebecers. It is still a tradition to light fires at night.

External link

fr:Fête nationale du Québec

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