Growing up with a thirst for travel, to be honest I was never overly into celebrating Canada – all the exciting stuff seemed to happen somewhere else.
But over the many years of our travels, we learned as much about our own country as we did about others. While we’ve enjoyed and admired the pace of life in other places, we can come home to a lot of things we love: changes of season (there’s nothing like a crisp autumn day surrounded by gorgeous leaf colours); a cosmopolitan food scene that allows us to recreate some of our favourite dishes from our travels; the opportunity to own a home with a yard where we can enjoy summer barbecues.
Our history hasn’t been spotless and we’re still working out the fallout/reparation, but during this time in particular we are grateful to have great medical care available to everyone. The son of a friend of mine contracted a very serious case of Covid and our local hospital saved his life without anyone having to worry about the cost.
So for several years now my hubby and I have been celebrating Canada Day in various ways, and this year I noticed that a lot of people in our neighbourhood have done the same. Our government has done a good job of steering us through the pandemic and I think most of us feel as safe as we can be under the circumstances.
While I’m more of a free-form person than someone who likes routine, this year our national holiday made me think of how traditions can help provide a sense of stability and continuity. in times of uncertainty especially, celebrating things we care about helps ground us to normality, whether it’s a daily ritual of afternoon tea, a weekly trip to a bistro for good coffee and pastries as my brother does, or reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every December as another friend does each year for her family – whatever brings a smile your face.
So this July 1st, we braved the heat and humidity to fire up our barbecue for some good steaks, corn bread with cheese, and a layered salad, followed by a highly-tweaked banana split that took advantage of the wonderful fruit we have available: fresh in-season strawberries macerated in sugar and Drambuie over vanilla-bean ice cream, peaches sautéed in a butter/brown sugar/cardamom sauce over salted caramel ice cream, and chocolate sauce over coffee ice cream.
I hope that, wherever you are, there are traditions that can help keep you grounded while we wait for whatever normality comes out of this eventually.
You’re driving along a country road at dusk, navigating through hills and along hedgerows. The sky is turning lavender, while over the rolling hills a mist is creeping down the slopes. Any moment you expect a Druid to appear, collecting mistletoe for some ancient ritual…
You’re at a subway stop deep in the bowels of the earth. The tracks disappear into black holes in both directions. A small electronic sign on the ceiling advises you of how long you have to wait while you read and re-read huge curved billboards on the wall across from your platform. Soon a sooty puff of air blowing out of the tunnel like a dragon’s breath announces that your train is approaching.
Where are you? In England, of course.
England is one of my favourite places to visit, evidenced by the fact that my hubby Mike and I have been there at least half a dozen times. England was where I first learned about a decent cup of tea, had a meal in a 600-yr-old pub, saw thatched roofs and 1000-yr-old tombs, and generally fell in love with this beautiful, quirky country. Every time we step out onto British soil we feel like we’re in our second home, even though neither of us has any British background in our families. There’s just something about the place that fascinates, amuses and endears people. Every time there’s a celebration in Britain, thousands of Anglophiles around the world either attend in person or make their own party at home.
Why the hubbub? I imagine everyone has their own slant, but I can list some general reasons:
– The Brits can and have turned just about anything into an excuse for a celebration: royal wedding, royal birth, Queen’s Jubilee, Bank Holiday, cricket test matches, Wimbledon…even afternoon tea, which humble beverage they’ve elevated into a national pastime and a sprawling multi-level industry that has included china makers and silversmiths, tea purveyors and smugglers, tea shops/salons/rooms, and probably the largest variety of sweets in the world. Everything the British do is larger-than-life and seems a lot more fun than the way we live over here in North America.
– Tradition: there’s a sense of solidity and comfort in traditions that have literally been handed down over hundreds of years. One of the most fun things to do in a visit to London is to attend the nightly Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, which has been going on for over 900 years without missing a night. You can walk the streets and halls of places you’ve read about, eat a typical English meal in a pub complete with a pint of beer, and buy products from purveyors that have been endorsed by the Royal Family with a Royal Warrant. You can shop where James Bond does, stand under the sign at 221b Baker Street for an obligatory photo at the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and then walk across the road to buy some memorabilia, and bring home mugs with a map of the Tube to remind you of the wonderfully eccentric but efficient subway system.
– English culture is a wonderful mixture of playful, grandiose, eccentric and murky that continually reinvents itself, making it relevant to every succeeding generation. Where else would you find things like an annual count of mute swans in open water (which officially belong to the reigning monarch), or having a race that involves rolling rounds of cheese down a hill? To balance that, you can be uplifted by the sounds of Evensong filling the massive stone chambers of a cathedral, watch Phantom of the Opera at the London theatre, or stand in front of the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. The fact that there’s a living monarchy makes every bit of history just as important today as it has been for centuries.
– This rich cultural heritage has provided the inspiration for some of the greatest classics in literature, music, film, and fertile ground for some of the most innovative artists around today. On top of that, if you’ve read it in a book or watched it in a movie set in England, you can likely find it in real life à England excels at preservation, making it a paradise for pilgrims. Because the British empire touched so many countries at its height, inspiring the famous saying that ‘the sun never sets on the British empire’, visiting England is a trip of instant recognition for people around the globe, and the culture, particularly in page and film, continues to enthrall us all, from the legends of King Arthur to Shakespeare to Downton Abbey to Harry Potter, and everything in between.
– England loves visitors! The transportation system is fantastic, many museums are free, there’s a pub to rest your feet practically on every corner…in London they’ve even thoughtfully painted instructions at every intersection for walkers to “Look right” or “Look left” so that visitors don’t get run over adjusting to the reverse traffic directions.
While the world basks in royal baby excitement, even if you can’t be there in person, celebrate at home with a good cup of English Breakfast tea and fresh scones draped in Liberty’s crème fraiche and Greaves strawberry jam. Then take the next opportunity to book a trip to England, whether it’s a glorious week exploring London, which you can never tire of, or including some extra time to go out to Stonehenge, Bath, Nottingham, or wherever takes your fancy, and drop me a note if you need help planning your trip.