Quebec gets an extra holiday in the summer. It's St. Jean Baptiste day or La fête nationale. This year it took place last Friday (June 24th). The rest of Canada also takes Canada Day (July 1st) off. I think they get that as a holiday here as well.
It originated in France as a pagan holiday celebrating the summer solstice. When King Clovis started making christianity official, he turned the holiday in to a celebration of St. John the Baptist (the dude who baptised Jesus and I think later got betrayed by Salomé and had his head cut off). The original french settlers brought the holiday with them to Nouvelle France and maintained it as a patriotic celebration. I think it's not such a big holiday in France anymore, but here, especially with the revolution, it has been installed as one of the biggest holidays of the year.
And it's big! Quebec City and Montreal have huge spectacles (that's concert in french). Montreal actually had two, a free one in Parc Maissoneuve and a pay one on Île st. Hélène. Hundreds of thousands of people attend these shows, wrapped in Quebec flags, fleurs-de-lys painted on their face. I'm sure most of the smaller cities in Quebec have their own spectacles and parades as well. People really party. I imagine there are a lot of people born 9 months after June 24th! At the shows, everybody knows all the lyrics, singing them together with the people on the stage.
Anyways, it's a very nationalistic holiday. I know to a lot of westerners, that must sound weird. It still sounds weird to me. I also heard a few bilinguals scoff at it being called la fête nationale. I'm sure there are many who feel threatened by Quebec nationalism who are not comfortable with the tone of this holiday. Most people, though, from what I read in the english hebdos, are quite happy to have an extra holiday and consider it a great opportunity to party.
I heard an interview with a politician who was encouraging people to come to the spectacle in Montreal. He took great pains to make it clear that this holiday was open to all Quebecers, especially immigrants. The host was asking him some tough questions about this issue, but I still got the sense that the politician was protesting too much. The problem with Quebec nationalism (any nationalism, really) is that it reveals the fuzzy line between cultural pride and exclusion. It's a complex and rich argument, with points on both sides. But Quebec nationalism connects itself back to the original white, french settlers. And that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Many anglophones have families that have been in Quebec for generations. There are also many immigrant groups, especially here in Montreal, who have been here for 2 or 3 generations (Italians and Portuguese specifically) who don't feel included in the fête nationale.
Furthermore, Quebec is bolstering its population with immigration. The government is working hard at educating the new immigrants, in the french language and the Quebecois culture. But you just don't get a sense that someone who moved here from Mexico is going to feel the same connection to Quebecois pop hits from the '70s as someone who grew up with them. Perhaps Quebec's strategy is a bit like the U.S. Unlike the "vertical mosaic" of the rest of Canada, Quebec is trying to fully assimilate its immigrants. Judging by the low-level racism that I see and hear constantly in Montreal, I don't think they are succeeding (more on this issue later).
I don't have many conclusions, beyond that there is a real tension inherent in the fête nationale, but I think the overall postive and festive nature of the culture here will keep the tension at an intellectual level rather than turning the holiday into something divisive.