Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vic-two-four-ia Day

Long ago life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene
And the rich were so mean
Stately homes for the Lords
Croquet lawns, village greens
Victoria was my queen...
— from Victoria by The Kinks

Victoria Day is less than four weeks away. Most Americans are probably thinking, “What the hell is that?” And many Canadians are probably thinking, “I don’t know about Victoria Day, but the May Two-Four weekend is approaching.”

From the Wikipedia article about Victoria Day:
The holiday is colloquially known as May Two-Four in parts of Canada; a double entendre that refers both to the date around which the holiday falls (May 24) and the Canadian slang for a case of twenty-four beers (a "two-four")...

I can't speak for those in other parts of Canada, but I never hear anyone around here refer to the holiday as Victoria Day anymore — it's always the May Two-Four weekend.

The holiday originally was a celebration of the birthday of Queen Victoria. All I care is that it kicks off the outdoor-fun season; although it can still be downright chilly at that time of year. Even so, it is a popular weekend for camping at nearby Pinery Provincial Park.

For me, camping on the Victoria Day weekend would be as much fun as bedding down for the night in a meat locker. Regardless, you have to make reservations weeks in advance to get one of the thousand or so campsites at the park.

There is usually a ban on liquor at the Pinery on that weekend. Couple that with the cool weather and you may conclude that:
a) Canadians are really champing at the bit to get outdoors and do something after the long winter
b) Canadians are camping maniacs
c) Canadians are a little wacky
d) All of the above (this is the proper conclusion)

Even as a youngster, I don't remember calling the holiday Victoria Day. Back then it was known as Firecracker Day. That’s what it was all about (that and a day off from school). There were fewer restrictions then on fireworks. It was perfectly legal to go to the corner store and buy a few sticks of small dynamite. BANG!

What a racket those weekends were in those days! It was a common sight to see some kid tossing firecrackers around all over the place, like a deranged Johnny Appleseed with explosives.

KA-POW!!! A dozen more dogs take cover under a bed.

The smallest firecrackers were known as “lady fingers”. Letting them go one at a time was pointless — you’d get a bigger bang from cracking your knuckles. The way to enjoy lady fingers (apparently) was to throw a whole packet of them at the feet of a friend and make him “dance”. The kids who did this would have been a riot in the old west. POP! POP! POP! POP!

My father used to buy these semi-lethal (yet legal) sticks of TNT called “cannon crackers”. He would ignite one and quickly cover it with an empty coffee can. Then, BOOM! — that can would shoot 15 to 20 feet in the air.

Dad bought a lot of fireworks to celebrate Victoria Day. I don’t think he cared a flying fig for British royalty, but he loved to entertain his kids (and, consequently, the rest of the neighborhood) with a pyrotechnical display. The show was pretty lame by today's standard; a few Roman candles (and here I thought the Chinese invented fireworks), sparklers, pinwheels, and cone shaped dazzlers that sprayed colored sparks as much as two feet skyward.

Some displays were much less brilliant than others. For instance, there were these tiny cylindrical pellets that you could ignite and then they would burn into a black “snake” of ash. Whoopee! You really needed a front row seat for that spectacle.

We had fireworks with names like Baker’s Dozen (a roman candle that shot off 13 flaming fireballs), Cascade, Volcano, and Guy Fawkes (named after some early fireworks pioneer).

My personal favorite was the burning schoolhouse. We’d laugh and cheer as it went up in flames and then watch wistfully as it finally burned down, imagining that it was our own school. But it was back to reality the following morning when we would see our edifice of education standing there as good as new.

This year I plan to start my Victoria Day weekend celebration as I usually do — in a lawn chair enjoying a cold beer while the other 23 chill in the fridge. And without one thought of Queen Victoria.

This holiday - what does it mean?
A day to fete some erstwhile queen?
Or is it an excuse to pour
myself a beer on this “Two-Four”.


  1. Why, we're practically neighbours. I'll be spending my May 24 on my boat in Grand Bend - with some beer and some sparklers.

  2. May two-four long weekend. As you said, the beginning of camping season. I can't do the camping thing now, but I can still do the two-four thing. ;)

    1. Fireworks, camping, two-fouring, it's all good!

  3. I'm with Janyce! I wouldn't camp if someone paid me but the beer part I can handle. Thank-you for the reminder that this long weekend is so close at hand. And we won't be in the midst of any blogging challenge (thank god) so I myself might have to buy 2 two-fours and celebrate!

    1. Would that make it the Four-Eight weekend?

  4. Interesting post! I didn't know about the two-four.

    1. I hereby declare the Two-Four to be an international holiday!