Celebrations World-Wide

One thing all nations have in common is celebrations of one kind or another. Some are of religious origin, others are secular. Nearly every country has its national day or independence day, celebrated throughout the land, as well as local observances, restricted to certain regions or even individual villages. Typically such occasions include parades or processions, marching bands or folk musicians, and nearly always there is food, music, games and general merriment. Summer and early autumn is a time when different countries mark the longest day of the year, honour their fathers, celebrate their independence, the harvest or various religious occasions. Here are some examples:

FATHER'S DAY (the third Sunday of June): In the US and Canada on this day (which fell on 20 June this year) fathers get shirts, ties or 'bottles' from their children and are often taken out to dinner. Children off on their own and living a long way from their family homes often phone to wish their dads 'Happy Father' s Day' . When they do, however, all too often they reverse the charges!

FATHER'S DAY (23 June): In Poland this day exists largely in theory. It is mentioned by the media but is not widely celebrated as in other countries. Don' t the Polish people believe their hard-working dads deserve to be honoured at least one day a year?

MID-SUMMER EVE (23 June): The shortest night of the year has been celebrated across Europe since time immemorial. On this night, according to legend, all kinds of strange and wonderful things are said to occur. There is music, dancing and general merriment round blazing bonfires late into the night. This feast is celebrated with particular enthusiasm in Scandinavia and the Baltic States. In Poland, girls float candle-lit floral wreaths down the river. The boy who retrieves a girl' s wreath is said to become her sweetheart.

CANADA DAY (1 July): Once known as Dominion Day, Canada Day is the day on which Canadians celebrate the anniversary of their nationhood. The holiday commemorates the 1867 British-North America Act which gave Canada the status of a Dominion, a self-governing member of the British Commonwealth. It is a free day for school children and most ordinary citizens, and the occasion is marked by parades, picnics, funfairs and firework displays across the land, from Newfoundland on the Atlantic to British Columbia on the Pacific.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (4 July): Commonly referred to by Americans as the Fourth of July, this anniversary commemorates the 1776 Declaration of Independence, in which America' s thirteen British colonies severed their ties with Mother England and proclaimed themselves a free country. The celebrations are much like those of Canada Day (above), except on a bigger scale. They include patriotic assemblies, military-band concerts, parades and flag-raising ceremonies. Many spend the day at picnics or at the beach. After dusk, the dark sky comes ablaze with cascades of colourful fireworks which are enjoyed by young and old alike.

BASTILLE DAY (14 July): France' s national day is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which launched the French Revolution. To French revolutionists the Bastille, a prison, was a symbol of royalist oppression so they murdered its governor and dismantled the building stone by stone. An impressive military parade, including a fly-past by air force jets in formation, is held along Paris' Champs Élysées. Smaller parades as well as music, dancing in the streets and sporting events are held in cities, towns and villages across the country.

LAMMAS (1 August): This Middle English term meaning 'Loaf Mass' was Britain' s traditional harvest festival. On that day, bread baked from the year' s first crop of wheat was consecrated in church. Festivities, including good food, drink, music and dancing are still held in rural areas to celebrate the harvest. The festival is also called Lammas Day and the season is known as Lammastide.

FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION (15 August): Catholics world-wide celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary' s Assumption into Heaven on this day. In Poland, the occasion is also known as the Feast of Our Lady of the Herbs, because flowers, fruits and herbs symbolizing the harvest are blessed in church. To Poles the date also has patriotic significance as the anniversary of the Miracle on the Vistula (1920), when the Polish Army stopped the Bolshevik hordes trying to invade Western Europe.

LABOUR DAY (first Monday in September): Rather than May Day, which is celebrated in most countries on the 1st of May, Canada and the US honour working people towards the end of summer. In industrial communities, trade unions hold rallies, parades and picnics. To many people across North America, the Labour Day Weekend marks the end of summer holidays, many beaches and summer resorts close for the season, and youngsters know that schools will soon re-open.

YOM KIPPUR: To practising Jews the world over, this is a very important holy day. Yom Kippur in Hebrew means Day of Atonement - a time set aside to fast and do penance for one' s sins. It is a movable feast which in different years is celebrated in September or October. This year it falls on 20 September.

THANKSGIVING DAY (in Canada the second Monday in October): Thanksgiving Day marks the end of the wheat and corn (maize) harvest. Families gather for a traditional turkey dinner which usually includes sage stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. French Canadians often augment the feast with a savoury meat pie known as torticre. In general, Thanksgiving is more subdued than in the US, where parades are held to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season. One reason is the date on which the holiday is observed in the two countries. American Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, roughly one month before Christmas.

COLUMBUS DAY (13 October): This holiday honours Christopher Columbus, who is credited with discovering the New World in 1492. Since Columbus hailed from Italy, Italo-Americans regard this as their own special day, but Americans of every nationality also join in the festivities. These include parades and festivals with traditional food, music and dancing in the streets. This and other public holidays are now regularly celebrated on the nearest Monday, if they fall in the middle of the week. People get a one-day-longer weekend, but business goes on uninterrupted over the following four working days. This year Columbus Day is being observed on Monday, 11 October.

PUłASKI DAY (16 October): This holiday, honouring Count Kazimierz Pułaski, the hero of two continents, is particularly celebrated in cities with a big concentration of Polish-Americans, such as Chicago and New York where Pułaski Day parades are regularly held. Although it is not a public holiday, the governor of Illinois regularly marks the occasion with a proclamation recalling Pułaski' s contribution to America' s independence.

Rob Strybel