As an Estonian-Canadian, nationalism hasn’t come easily to me. Growing up, my parents made a concerted effort to be sure I understood what it meant to be Estonian, and rightly so. I’m a big believer that a person’s heritage can play a huge part in their character and pride. The trouble was that amidst Estonian summer camp, night school and folk dancing, the Canadian part of the equation was somehow overshadowed. I came to see myself as Estonian by heritage, Canadian by accident. It wasn’t until years later, when I drove across Canada in a 16-year-old one-ton truck with four sled dogs for company (a whole other story in itself) that I gave any real thought to what it meant to me to be Canadian.
Now, working on cruise ships with over 60 nationalities between passengers and crew, Canadian pride has taken on new meaning. Yesterday we had a joint crew celebration of Canada Day (July 1st) and US Independence Day (July 4th). Parties are popular here, a welcome release for people who for the most part work full-time hours without a day off for months on end. With only 24 Canadians and about half as many Americans onboard, the rest of the party show up for the drinks and festivities. Still, the amount of Canadian face paint, flags, stickers and shirts amazed me. The sheer flood of red & white put the crowd celebrating at Canadian Place in Vancouver to shame.
Canadian music dominated the night, with the dance floor clearing of all but Canadians at the songs apparently unknown to the outside world. As a new song began, the DJ stopped the music as soon as he recognized the tune, but it was too late. All the Canadians on the dance floor were belting out our national anthem at the top of their lungs, continuing even after the music stopped in the most passionate rendition I have ever heard. While I enjoyed the moment, it didn’t quite hit me until the following morning.
I awoke to find a Canadian flag hanging over my bed, a temporary tattoo of a maple-leaf still emblazoned on my cheek, and wondering why I had to be in international waters so far from home to feel this great pride in my home country. I love our peaceful intentions and our healthcare system that, while far from perfect, tries to make sure everyone is cared for. I love that gay marriage is legal, as are freedom of speech and religion (or from religion, as one sees fit). Most of all, I love whatever it is we’ve done as a people that has such an international crowd choosing to wear maple leafs when it would have been equally festive to wear stars and stripes.
It was a great night, a wonderful celebration and reminder not just to Canadians but hopefully to all of us to be grateful for the things that make our individual countries so unique. The question that strikes me now is: What will it take to get all the Canadians at home to throw back their heads on Canada Day and belt out their national anthem with the same passion, loyalty and pride as we felt that night at sea?
Sing That Anthem!
Photo: Melissa Unger