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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Several places celebrate Family Day, including South Africa, Vanuatu, Arizona, the Australian Capital Territory, and Canada. Family Day in Canada is perhaps the best known. It is held on the third Monday of February and is a statutory holiday for close to 60 per cent of Canadians. This day is set aside for people to participate in a range of activities as a family. It coincides with the Presidents Day holiday in the US.

Family Day is not a federal holiday but a provincial one, and only in certain provinces, although New Democrat Party leader Jack Layton wants it to be a national holiday. Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario celebrate Family Day. Roughly similar holidays are celebrated on the same day in Manitoba as Louis Riel Day, in memory of its founder, and in Prince Edward Island as Islander Day. Newfoundland and Labrador has a school board holiday on this day, although it is not an official holiday. This day is a normal working day in the other provinces of British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, as well as the three territories. A proposal to introduce Family Day in British Columbia in 1994 failed. More recent proposals in this province have been opposed by the chamber of commerce and the government.

Alberta was the first province to have the Family Day holiday. The then premier Don Getty instigated the holiday in 1990 after his son was caught possessing and using cocaine. Getty felt that he hadn’t spent enough time with his family and thought that a special day for this purpose would encourage other families to spend more time together and for the province to appreciate the importance of family values. Saskatchewan has had Family Day since 2007 and Ontario since 2008. Manitoba has celebrated its day since 2008 and Prince Edward Island from 2009.

Family Day helps people recognize the importance of the family unit, regarded as the basic building block for the success of any society. A family is there to care for its children, give them financial security, teach morals and values, provide ongoing assistance, and a host of other reasons. It helps people face the challenges of life, especially if esteem is low, or anxiety or depression hits. Family support in these situations may help young people to avoid resorting to illegal drugs, excessive alcohol, and anti-social behavior.

If a young person has been let down by their friends or loses their job or just finds it difficult to cope, a loving and supportive family is the thing they can fall back on as the one constant in their lives. With the right support and proper communication, a family can help a young person to be happy and successful, to form good relationships, and become a better adult and more useful member of society. When families do not look after each other to the full, family disintegration is more likely, with its huge costs to society in the form of higher crime and straining the health and social security systems.

Activities are encouraged on Family Day that bring a family together and bond the members as a unit. If the weather is reasonable, outdoor skating, tobogganing, or skiing might be a good way to spend this day with family. Going to a movie and having a meal out is always popular. Museums and art galleries often have reduced prices on Family Day. Activities at home might include board games, craft, or cooking up some cold weather favorites. A visit to other family members will help develop closer relationships with them. Or families can take advantage of the long weekend and travel out of town for a few days.

Family Day coincides with Canada’s National Heritage Day in most places and families are encouraged to incorporate heritage type interests into their holiday activities. We are taught that family and home values were important to pioneers just as they are for us today. Our family heritage is a collective treasure chest of material items, stories, and values passed down to us, which we can proudly hand on to our children. A family can provide a past, present, and future, and help not only to cement the family unit but also a nation.

Some heritage things to do on Family Day could include looking at family photos with relatives, using an old family recipe, writing or calling a family member you’ve never met, constructing a family tree, discussing family origins using a map, or going for a family walk and connecting with nature or admiring the buildings both old and new.

Family Day would be an ideal time to organize a family reunion, so as to meet or catch up with relatives and see just how many people we are connected to. Family Day or similar holidays are celebrated in many parts of Canada. The immediate purpose of this day is to bring families together to pursue various activities. A more fundamental aim is to instill an awareness of the importance of family, and that activities and support should be happening all the time, not just on Family Day.