St Jean Baptiste – Fête Nationale … What is it?

st jean baptiste day

Growing up, the only thing I knew about St. Jean Baptiste Day was that it meant the school year was over. I never remember learning about it in school, and I moved to the USA when I was in eight grade. I could tell you almost anything you wanted to know about North Carolina and American history though. I often wondered if I wasn’t as aware of the holiday as I should be a younger child because I grew up in an anglophone and protestant town.
Asking my mother, who is French Canadian, gave me the answer … “It’s Québec’s birthday”.
Okay, but why the Saint?
I thought Québec and Canada were proud of their secularism?! Was that the day that Québec was founded? I was the kind of kid who wanted to know more.

The History Behind Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day

Held yearly on June 24th, Saint Jean Baptiste Day is now known in Québec as la Fête Nationale du Québec. It has been a statutory holiday in Québec since 1925, although it had been celebrated in North America since the early days of New France.
Originally, it was celebrated as a religious holiday.
It coincides with the summer solstice. Pagans would light fires to commemorate the longest day of the year. In typical early Christian fashion, they took over the celebration and re-branded it, associating it with St John the Baptist.

In Québec as early as 1843, it started as a religiously led political celebration. There would be a mass, a banquet and a parade led by member of Saint Jean Baptiste Societies. It evolved over time to include other cultural organizations, students and professional orders. The last float would usually have a curly headed young child representing St John, and children dressed up as Jacques Cartier and an aboriginal person. Over time, more people from early French Canadian history were added.
In 1908, Saint John the Baptist was named the patron saint of Québec.

During the 1960s and 70s Québec started to move away from the relgious aspect of the holiday and began to focus on the arts and culture. The name was actually changed to la Fête Nationale du Québec in 1977 to remove the religious connotations.

quebec flag
Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste © Morgan/ Flickr

These days (well maybe not this year, thanks COVID 19) la Fête Nationale is still sometimes called La Saint Jean and is a day for proudly displaying the blue-and-white fleur-de-lys flag. Celebrations include parades, festivals, outdoor concerts, parties, and fireworks. It marks the beginning of the summer season with the end of school, camping trips and get togethers.

So now I know, if my kids ever ask, I can give them more of a background on the holiday. Google Calendar calls it St. Jean Baptiste.

history of st jean baptiste day

We’re Going Camping!

zero waste camping newbie

For the last several years, I have been wanting to camp.
Even before I moved back to Canada I wanted to spend time hiking and camping. I feel at home in nature.
I lived in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains . . . I should have been living in the woods.

After making a post on Facebook about my youngest child wanting a tent, my cousin offered to give us a couple of tents. We took her up on the offer and we ended up with a six person tent and a giant four room tent. Score!

I may lose come “Canadian” points here, but I loathe winter.
It’s fun for a little bit. A day or two of sledding or snowshoeing… but after four or five months of the gruelling cold — I am over it. It makes me wonder how I enjoyed it as a child and wanted to spend every waking moment outside.
I now believe that this is why summer is so valued here and why everyone essentially lives outside during the summer. We all secretly hate winter.

I am fortunate to live to close to Gatineau Park.
Gatineau Park is a 361 square km conservation park that is located only a few minutes from downtown Ottawa-Gatineau.

As soon as they opened up the online reservations for camping in Gatineau Park, I jumped at getting us a reservation. I wanted it to be early enough in the summer that if they kids enjoyed it. we could return.

Reservations made, tents on hand . . . then it hit me.
I have never been camping on my own, as an adult. And I am taking kids?
What do I need?
What will they eat?
Will they be scared?
How cold will it get?
What did I get myself into?
How will we fit everything into our trunk?
Can I even set up the tent?!
How bored will the kids be?

I have two weeks to plan and get everything together.
I want to try and make this as minimal waste as possible and I also don’t want to buy all kinds of things to take that may only be used once.
I really think the thing that worries me the most is running out of food, or Teghan deciding that she wants a very specific food item that she hasn’t even mentioned in months while we are out in the woods.

I am fairly confident that I can pull it all together.
I just didn’t think about all of these decisions and the planning involved before I made the reservation.


planning a zero waste camping trip