Street festivals give us an identity

A Town Crier Community Column

I recently had an opportunity to take part in an end of summer/early fall street festival in my riding of Don Valley East and was reminded of how much fun a good Toronto street party can be.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see processions around the world in my travels both as an MP and as a private citizen and, like many cities, Toronto has always been keen on its street and community celebrations.

Even so, as I watched this particular hometown procession pass — as I greeted constituents of so many different walks of life — I couldn’t help but feel that there was something about our festivals in particular that have a unique significance. Amidst the balloons and the smiling faces one might ask: what is it about our Canadian context that makes our festivals so important?

Street festivals have been with us for some time now. Ancient Egyptians in the 12th and 13th centuries celebrated days of religious importance and military victories with an abundance of free food and entertainment for the public. Seasonally each year, the inundation of the Nile River would irrigate land providing for Egyptian agricultural needs and this too would be something for which street festivals were held.

If we trace the etymology of the word “festival” we find that it is similar to that of the word “feast”, which finds its origins in many of our most significant and ancient religious and ethno-cultural celebrations.

As these and other festivals like them make their way from distant shores we may ask ourselves: do they not gain new relevance within the Canadian context?

In Canada we have built a society based on the tenets of inclusion, pluralism and the celebration of the different facets of Canadian identity. These have grown in tandem with our free flow of ideas and artistic expression. But for these tenets to come to life, they have to be practiced as well as professed. When culture and identity are encouraged to co-mingle with an individual’s ideas and interests our precepts of Canada come off the page and become an experience very much alive for us all to take part in.

Canadian street festivals do more than just give us a chance to celebrate. They manifest our country’s blueprint of inclusion. Whether it be for ideas, culture, art or religion, our festivals actively include others in events representing sentiments we hold dear to ourselves as individuals: encouraging all Canadians to take part in the expression of their neighbours. This is a quintessential Canadian value, something that makes us special among nations.

As Canadians we are indebted to many of our country’s past leaders for having the foresight to realize the value of our many identities and enshrine these within our Constitution. Ensuring that the true potential of these acts are realized is a practice in which our different festivals play a huge part.

It is in Canada where we are able to say Chinese New Year, Caribana, indeed all of our festivals, are here for everyone to enjoy.

Getting out and celebrating these events helps us manifest our ideas of inclusion, breathing life into our blueprints and exposing all of us to the multifaceted nature of our collective Canadian identity.

About this article:

By: Yasmin Ratansi
Posted: Nov 15 2010 12:18 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto