Students who attend elementary and secondary schools at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will be away from school for the week of March 14 to 18. March break is usually seen as a welcome time away from formal studies and an opportunity for students and staff to spend time with family and friends while recovering from the cold winter and preparing to welcome the milder spring weather. A message from the Director of Education at the TDSB posted at the TDSB website on Friday March 4 reads: “With the March Break approaching, I just want to take the opportunity to encourage everyone to take some time to relax and unwind. Have a safe and enjoyable break! Just a reminder, as per our Homework Policy, students will not receive any homework to be completed during the break. Take this time to enjoy a well-deserved rest. Enjoy a safe and happy holiday with friends, family and loved ones and I look forward to seeing everyone back after the break, recharged and ready for the remainder of the year!”
Elementary and secondary school students and staff are not the only group that enjoys a break before the spring, post-secondary institutions also allow their students and staff time off during a one week Reading Week. The University of Toronto, Ryerson and York Universities had their Reading Week two weeks ago from February 21 to 25. Some students spend Reading Week doing just that; “reading” and catching up with neglected assignments while others take the opportunity to head to warmer climes for some “fun in the sun.”
Many students in post secondary schools south of the border usually enjoy Spring Break by heading to Florida for a little more than a break from the cold winter weather. An article written by Bill Marsh, published in the New York Times dated March 9, 2006 and titled “The Innocent Birth of the Spring Bacchanal” informs that “Spring break now sprawls across international borders, with students either welcomed as free-spenders or shunned for being little more than drunken mobs. It seems to have started out innocently enough. The Colgate University swim coach worried that his 1934-35 team might get out of shape during Christmas break. A student’s father, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., suggested the team train at a big new pool in the city. Decades of cultural upheaval later, with unruly hordes numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the popularity of “Fort Liquordale” had become a huge annual headache.”
This year many Universities in the USA had their Spring Break from February 28 to March 4 and from March 7 to 11. These days (21st century) Fort Lauderdale has much competition for the University and College crowd as the ultimate Spring Break destination. The many advertisements try to outdo each other with special packages for adventurous post-secondary students, with airlines and hotels getting in on the action. There are even articles with dire warnings for those students who may want to leave the U.S and wander south of the border to Mexico. One particular article caught my attention because the places which it warned students about included an American destination, three Mexican destinations and Jamaica. The article published by Fox News on March 2 with the headline Dangers Lurk in Some Spring Break Destinations included South Padre Island, Texas because “Just 30 minutes away are two major Mexican drug trafficking hubs, Matamoros and Nuevo Progresso.” No mention of the many home grown criminals in the USA including biker gangs, organized crime groups, confidence tricksters and the white collar criminals that ruin people’s lives. The American media chooses to warn about criminal behaviour in other countries and criminalize racialized people who live in the USA. In spite of the warnings American post secondary students continue to travel to so-called “exotic” destinations for Spring Break and Mexico continues to be one of the most popular destinations.
Not every country has a March Break or Spring Break especially if that country does not have four seasons. In the Guyana of my youth we enjoyed two weeks of Easter Holidays instead of March or Spring Break. Unlike Easter in Canada, there was no Easter Bunny nor were there any eggs, chocolate or otherwise, in the Guyanese Easter celebration. Although Easter is supposed to be a Christian holiday, the Easter bunny has no connection to Christianity. The word Easter is also pagan, supposedly from the pagan fertility goddess Ishtar (Babylonian) or Eastre (Anglo-Saxon).
Christianity is Guyana's dominant religion because of the country’s colonial history. The colonial European administrators made Christianity a prerequisite for social acceptance and in many cases education and employment. Enslaved Africans, stripped of their languages, names, cultures and religious practices, were forced to embrace the foreign beliefs of their enslavers. After several generations, this was all that many of them knew. The arrival of indentured labourers after the abolition of slavery, East Indians/South Asians from the Indian sub-continent (May 5, 1838) and Chinese (January 12, 1853) with their language, religion and culture intact did not lessen the British/Christian stranglehold on Guyanese culture. The first group of Portuguese indentured labourers arrived in Guyana (May 3rd, 1835) with a Catholic celebration of Easter. For generations, embracing Christianity was the means of achieving an education in schools founded and run by missionaries so it is not surprising that Easter a supposedly Christian celebration has been embraced by Guyanese of every religious belief and race. After the solemnity of Good Friday, the day that the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday, when those who could afford attended church in their best, new outfits, everyone looked forward to Easter Monday and kite flying.
Kite flying even though not a British activity was part of the Guyanese Easter ritual for people living on Guyana’s coastland. The seawall at Kitty, Georgetown and # 63 Beach on the Courentyne coast were two of the most famous places for kite flying in Guyana. Extended families with several generations (children, parents, grandparents, even great grand parents) would pack baskets of food and spend the day socializing with family, friends, neighbours and sometimes strangers as they flew their kites.
During the week of March Break elementary and secondary school students in Toronto have an excellent opportunity to read for enjoyment. The United Nations has declared 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent and since our students are not receiving knowledge of African Canadian history as part of their education parents need to buy books about that history and encourage their children to read. The most recent book published in that genre is The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway African Canadians in Hamilton. Meticulously researched and written by Adrienne Shadd (published December 2010) this book adds to the growing list of excellent books about African Canadian history. The Toronto Public Library (with 99 branches) has ordered 12 copies and 10 will be available for borrowing while 2 will be reference only copies. Have a safe and productive March Break!