La Fête Nationale Du Québec (formerly Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day), Québec statutory holiday, observed on 24 June. Since ancient times, people have celebrated the pagan custom of the summer solstice, lighting bonfires on the longest day of the year. In France, the solstice became associated with Saint John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who recognized and baptised him; both the solstice and John the Baptist are associated with the coming of light into the world.
In 1827, Ludger DUVERNAY, publisher of La Minerve, an important newspaper in Lower Canada, decided to bring together notable figures of the day with the idea of reviving the celebrations that had ceased since the CONQUEST, and during a banquet at lawyer John MacDonnell's home (the future site of Montréal's Windsor Station) on 24 June 1834, the holiday Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste was founded in Québec. Following a report about this banquet, several journalists encouraged people to celebrate Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, and a number of villages did so the following year.
However, the events of the 1837 REBELLION forced Duvernay into exile. Returning to Canada in 1842, he hastened to revive Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, reminding French Canadians that they were, more than ever before, duty bound to remain united. In 1843, Montréal celebrated the French Canadian holiday with great fanfare and the first street parade, a tradition that has continued ever since.
Although Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations took place in various locations every year, especially Québec City and Montréal, the Québec legislature only recognized the holiday officially in 1925. Predictably, considering the omnipresence of the Catholic Church, the holiday's religious obligation could not be disassociated from that of its patron saint, and it became the custom to personify Saint-Jean-Baptiste as a curly-haired child proudly holding a sheep in the procession's final allegorical float. In 1947, an association of SAINT-JEAN-BAPTISTE SOCIETIES formed a federation, which promptly campaigned for the adoption of the fleur-de-lys for Québec's flag. On 21 January 1948, it was made official, and the flag quickly became a rallying symbol for the Saint-Jean holiday.
During Québec's turbulent years of 1960-1970, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day distanced itself from its religious character and adopted a more cultural, artistic and unifying purpose. In 1972, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste federation became the Mouvement national des Québécois, reflecting the upheavals in society. The holiday, a great moment for national unity, was a platform for artists and politicians. Political leaders mingled in the parade, sometimes causing disturbances in the crowds, and sovereigntists used it to defend their cause. It was during this cult festivity in 1975 that Gilles VIGNEAULT sang his celebrated song and Québécois hit favourite "Gens du pays", and Ginette RENO followed with Jean-Pierre FERLAND's "Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin."
René LÉVESQUE sanctioned the celebration as an official holiday on 24 June 1977, eliminating the religious connotation and making it a statutory holiday in Québec.
Year after year and still called St-Jean Baptiste Day, it welcomes and acknowledges the various communities living in Québec. To commemorate the religious holiday of yesteryear, several masses take place on the morning of 24 June. During the Solstice of the Nations, celebrated on NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY, 21 June, embers from the sacred fire light the Saint-Jean bonfire on the Plains of Abraham on 23 June.
With renewed enthusiasm every year, all Québecers celebrate their national day with more than 750 events throughout the province on 23 and 24 June. Supported by thousands of volunteers, Québec's National Holiday presents more than 1050 performances and bonfires in one of Québec's biggest festivities.