21 May is celebrated as Victoria Day in Canada this year. As a neighbour of Canada’s, I was curious as to why the day was changing each year. You see, Queen Victoria was actually born on 24 May 1819. In fact, Queen Victoria’s birthday, was declared a holiday by the Legislature of the Province of Canada in 1845. Even after her death, Canadians still remembered her birthday on 24 May. It wasn’t until Queen Elizabeth II was crowned that Victoria Day became a movable holiday.
After Queen Victoria died the monarchs who succeeded her chose the day that they wanted to celebrate their birthday. For instance, Edward VII, who was born on November 9, by annual proclamation, chose to celebrate his birthday on May 24, his mother’s birthday. This was not unprecedented, as the two monarchs before Victoria, George IV and William IV, celebrated their birthdays on June 4, the birthday of George III.
However, Edward’s successor, George V, celebrated his birthday on the actual date, 3 June. George’s successor, Edward VIII, also celebrated on his actual birthday, 23 June. However, Edward’s brother, Albert, who assumed the throne as George VI when Edward abdicated, was actually born on 14 December and he chose to celebrate his birthday on a Thursday in early June.
When Elizabeth II was crowned, her first birthday as Queen was also celebrated in June. All this time, Canada was still celebrating Victoria Day on 24 May, but in 1952 the date was changed to “the Monday before 25 May”, making the holiday always fall on a Monday and giving the Canadians a three-day weekend. Finally, with the annual permission of the Queen, Canada began celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s birthday on Victoria Day. In 1957, Victoria Day was permanently appointed as the Queen’s birthday in Canada. In the United Kingdom, the Queen’s birthday is still celebrated in June. Will it change again when the next monarch takes the throne? We’ll have to wait and see. Until then, my neighbours to the north, enjoy your three-day weekend.
What do the Canadians do on Victoria Day you ask? The holiday, called May Long by the Canadians, is seen as the unofficial start of summer by many. By the end of May, the weather in Canada is usually warm and pleasant, and as TurtleBoy told me, “May Long (Victoria Day) is the weekend where Canadians everywhere start to plant their gardens. We can’t plant before that because there’s usually a good chance of frost, which would kill all the pretty flowers.” There are parades, of course. One of the most notable parades is held in the city of Victoria, British Columbia, which was named after Queen Victoria. There are also fireworks presentations. Many people gather in parks to enjoy the fireworks displays, which are particularly impressive in Hamilton and Toronto.
So enjoy May Long (Victoria Day), my Canadian brothers and sisters!
By the way, Victoria Day won’t occur on 24 May again until 2021.