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St-Jean Baptiste Day/National Holiday, a public holiday in Quebec

quebec-fireworksIn Quebec, June 24 is “la Fête nationale”, the province’s official holiday and celebration of French Canadian culture. The festivities occur on June 23 and 24, and since 1978 are publicly financed and organized by the National Holiday Organizing Committee.

All employees in Quebec are entitled to the holiday on June 24. Public holiday pay for the day is equivalent to 1/20th of the wages earned during the four complete weeks of pay preceding the week of the holiday, excluding overtime.

This year, June 24 falls on a Tuesday.

According to the guidelines of the Commission des Normes du Travail (Quebec’s Labour Standards Branch), employees in a workplace that cannot close on the 24th due to the nature of the work must be given a paid holiday on either the working day immediately before or after June 24, or be paid statutory holiday pay for the day, plus their regular rate for the hours worked that day.

According to Wikipedia, the feast day of Saint John the Baptist or Midsummer was a very popular event in the Ancien régime (Old Regime) of France, and it is still celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The tradition landed in Canada with the first French colonists. According to the Jesuits, the first celebration occurred on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River on the evening of June 23, 1636, with a bonfire and five cannon shots. The celebrations were supported by the Catholic Church and were primarily religious for many years. The lighting of bonfires, which was a traditional custom on the Nativity of Saint John, and ultimately reached back to pre-Christian Midsummer celebrations, remained part of the tradition. In addition, the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste parades were organized and became an important tradition over time. The procession of allegorical floats was introduced in 1874.

On June 24, 1880, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society organized the gathering of all francophone communities across North America. The event was the first National Congress of French Canadians (Congrès national des Canadiens français). On this occasion, the citizens of Quebec City were the first ones to hear the “Ô Canada” of Calixa Lavallée, based on a poem by a Quebec Superior Court judge, Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The song was commissioned by the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. It was well received but did not become a widely known song for many years. English words were later written for a royal tour in 1901. In 1980, “O Canada” became the official national anthem of Canada. Ironic that it all happened on June 24!

In 1908, Pope Pius X designated St. John the Baptist as the patron saint of French Canadians. From 1914 to 1923 the processions were not held. In 1925, June 24 became a legal holiday in Quebec. In 1977, an order-in-council by Lieutenant-Governor Hugues Lapointe, on the advice of Premier René Lévesque, declared June 24 the national holiday in Quebec. The use of national in this context is controversial, because of the different usages of the word nation.

While the religious significance of the celebration is mainly gone, the day remains popularly called la St-Jean-Baptiste or simply la St-Jean and is still observed in churches.

Bonne St-Jean!

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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