There is a popular folk song that came down to me, by some lucky chance, through my grandmother. It was a French Canadian song she learned among my grandfather’s family at Christmastime. It’s called ‘Prendre un p’tit coup’ (translated roughly, “have a little drink”) and is sung especially to toast the New Year.
The chorus goes,
Have a little drink, it’s nice;
have a little drink, it’s sweet;
have a big drink and it disturbs the spirit;
have a little drink, it’s sweet.
This is a song with lots of lyrics, and they can be changed for different circumstances. It’s a small thing in the end, just a song, but it is a song that reflects some qualities inherent to French Canadian culture – a joie de vivre, moderation, the ability and willingness to adapt to new circumstances, an appreciation of the small things in life, a respect for heritage.
Since May when a group of French Canadian Michiganders started working on the project to celebrate our heritage, one of Michigan’s founding cultures, it has been an exciting adventure. Right away we saw how people were interested in helping through the hundreds of signatures we gathered on our petition, through the messages they left in support, through the suggestions they offered, and by telling their friends and families about our cause.
And as the weeks passed, our excitement grew as civic officials and religious leaders gave us their support. Our cause was helped along by the office of Representative Bill LaVoy who sponsored a Resolution in support of our Heritage Day in the Michigan House. And Archbishop Allen Vigneron wrote in support as well with a personal letter about a culture he shares.
With all that behind us, in a few days – on October 4, 2013 – we will celebrate Michigan’s first French Canadian Heritage Day. From the very beginning we have worked toward this milestone with the understanding that our heritage day would be an annual observance. With a mix of optimism and concern for continuity, we know that, while our culture has survived for long enough now that our traditions should be remembered by the next generation, we can’t be complacent.
So now a new generation has taken positive steps in that direction and we look forward to celebrating what we hope will indeed become a new tradition – French Canadian Heritage Day on the first Friday of October, for this year and many years to come.
This first observance of French Canadian Heritage Day is being marked around the state with events in St. Ignace, Monroe, Detroit, and Marquette, and hopefully in other ways in homes among friends and families. If this seems small, it is at least a beginning. And it is my belief that we are only limited by our failure to imagine what it could be next year. With a year to plan, what events, exhibits, lectures, and projects could make next year’s Heritage Day an even better occasion across the state, and even across the Great Lakes region?
My grandmother, who taught me the song for the New Year’s toast, really didn’t speak French. She learned that song by taking part in a family celebration and it stuck with her through the decades before she taught it to me. You do not need to be an expert to practice your culture. You do not need permission. It is your right to know and live French Canadian culture. It is your cultural inheritance. Old traditions can be made new again, and new traditions can breathe new life into our community – a community of cousins, four centuries in the making.