Today is Quebec's Fête nationale, formerly St. Jean-Baptiste Day. A couple of decades ago, the focus was shifted from being an exclusively French-Canadian festival to being a celebration for everyone who lives in Quebec. That's why Lee and I fly the Quebec flag today, because we've chosen to live here, raise our children here, contribute as we can to the community.
This year is also the 35th anniversary of a song which has become identified with Quebec nationalism, Gens du pays, by Gilles Vigneault. It apparently was sung for the first time at the Fête nationale show in 1975, which I remember well. By chance, the holiday came at the full moon and the weather was marvelous. Not by chance, the organizers had moved the celebrations to the top of Mount Royal and made them inclusive and family friendly. I remember having a marvelous time, and feeling truly comfortable in this place we had begun to call home.
The refrain to the song has become Quebec's birthday song, as well as one of two Vigneault songs that are frequently called Quebec's unofficial national anthems (the other is Mon Pays, c'est l'hiver.) As you can see in the accompanying video grabbed from a television broadcast of that night in 1975, all you do is add the birthday boy or girl's name: for example, "Dear Emily, it is your turn for us to speak to you of love." Simple in the extreme but delightful. And when it's sung about Quebec--"People of my country, it is time to speak of you with love"--it can be very moving.
Here are the French words:
Le temps que l'on prend pour dire : "Je t'aime" C'est le seul qui reste au bout de nos jours. Les voeux que l'on fait, les fleurs que l'on sème Chacun les récoltes en soi-même Aux beaux jardins du temps qui court.
(Refrain, x2 :) Gens du pays, c'est votre tour De vous laisser parler d'amour
Le temps de s'aimer, le jour de le dire Fond comme la neige aux doigts du printemps. Fêtons de nos joies, fêtons de nos rires Ces yeux où nos regards se mirent. C'est demain que j'avais vingt ans.
(Au refrain, x2)
Le ruisseau des jours aujourd'hui s'arrête Et forme un étang où chacun peut voir Comme en un miroir l'amour qu'il reflète Pour ces cours à qui je souhaite Le temps de vivre leurs espoirs.
(Au refrain, x2)
Photo: an iris, Quebec's flower, at its loveliest. And for comic relief, note that the automatic translator says that the refrain should be translated: "Locals, it's your turn/ Let you talk about love."
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About the reviewer
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
The National Holiday of Quebec is the national holiday of the Canadian province of Quebec. A paid statutory public holiday covered under the Act Respecting Labour Standards, it is celebrated annually on June 24, St. John the Baptist Day.
In Quebec, the festivities occur on June 23 and June 24 and since 1978 are publicly financed and organized by a National Holiday Organizing Committee (Comité organisateur de la fête nationale). June 24 continues to be celebrated as a festival of French Canadian culture in other provinces and in the United States.