Canada: Holiday 101

When you're starting a new life in a new country, holidays are probably not the first thing on your mind. However, welcoming leisure, fun and hobbies into your life will certainly contribute to a healthy work-life balance, and holidays are just a normal part of that; a part defined by law, that is!

There are five national statutory holidays (or stats) in Canada, as well as several provincial statutory holidays. They are called statutory, because your employer is legally required give you the day off with pay. The nationally observed stats are New Year's Day, Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday), Canada Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day. Holidays observed on the provincial or territorial level vary and include days like Victoria Day, Louis Riel Day, Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day. For a complete listing of all Canadian holidays, go to www.statutoryholidays.com.

While some of the stats are bound to a certain date (e.g. Christmas Day is always on December 25), others occur on a certain day of the week (usually a Monday, like Labour Day – the first Monday in September), creating the beloved long weekends; time for Canadians to go camping or take short trips.

As with a lot of other things in Canada, there is a certain amount of flexibility in observing the stats, for employers and employees alike. Some businesses choose to close for all statutory holidays, while others remain open and give their staff a different day off (or pay an increased wage rate for people who are working that day). There is also the possibility of observing the holiday on a different date; if New Year's Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, for example, some businesses choose to observe the stat on the preceding Friday or following Monday and remain closed for a long weekend.

National Holidays like New Year's Day, Good Friday and Christmas are observed internationally, but there are a few holidays which are uniquely Canadian.

Canada Day – Also referred to as "Canada's Birthday", this day commemorates the historic signing of the Constitution Act. On July 1, 1867, Canada became a country by uniting three British colonies and adopting its own constitution. This day is nationally observed with celebrations, parades, BBQs (barbecue parties) and fireworks. It's a great opportunity to join your neighbours and co-workers at the park or by the beach, sing "O Canada" and enjoy a piece of birthday cake!

Victoria Day – Also known as part of the May long weekend, the "official" beginning of the Canadian camping, cottaging and gardening seasons, this holiday, commemorating Queen Victoria's birthday, had been observed on the monarch's actual birthday since the 1850s, but in 1952, it was changed to always fall on the Monday preceding May 23. For many Canadians this particular weekend is not so much about remembering Queen Victoria as it is about letting off fireworks, planting flowers and vegetables, or getting the tents and gear together and heading out to the lake for the first camping weekend of the season.

Labour Day – This statutory holiday is also part of a long weekend, the September long weekend, which usually marks the last opportunity for camping or travelling before the new school year starts. The meaning of this special day? It was created in the 1880s to honour the accomplishments of the working class and the labour union movement. Labour Day is also observed in many other countries around the world, most of which celebrate this day in May.

Remembrance Day – Always on November 11, this day honours the members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Royal Canadian Legion will start selling poppy pins about three weeks before Remembrance Day, as a fundraiser for some of their programs benefitting veterans and their families. The red poppies are commonly seen during this time, worn on jackets and even hats as a symbol of support. On November 11, Canadian soldiers are honoured in ceremonies all over the country, with people acknowledging those who gave their lives so we can live in a country with freedom of speech and many other constitutional rights. This is a very sombre and meaningful holiday, with people of all age groups participating, but it is a stat for less than half of the Canadian population.

Knowing what Canadian holidays are all about will help you feel more comfortable in your new life, and maybe even make it easier to connect to your co-workers and neighbours. Taking time for friends and enjoying life and nature are important parts of the Canadian culture.

It's also important to know what your rights are. In addition to the statutory holidays, there is legislation in place to regulate vacation time. This also varies slightly between the provinces and territories, but it ensures that a certain percentage of your wages (usually four per cent in addition to your earnings) are either paid out with every paycheque or set aside for future use. four per cent of your earnings will equal the pay for two weeks' vacation time; make sure you talk to your employer about how he/she will handle your vacation pay and plan accordingly. For more information on vacation pay, please refer to the following website: www.labour.gc.ca (http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/labour/employment_standards/federal/wages/vacation.shtml)