For years, July 1st and 4th were dates on the calendar that saw Canada and the United States celebrate their birthdays in very different ways.
Americans took Independence Day to flag-waving extremes, setting off enough fireworks to light up the planet. Their level of patriotism often made those of us living north of the 49th uncomfortable. It wasn't that Canadians weren't proud of where they lived or didn't take pride in the values and ideals for which their country stood. It's just that we never believed we needed to shout from the rooftops about it, or that we had to drape ourselves in red and white to demonstrate how much we love our country.
Over the years there were moments when we freed ourselves from the shackles of our innate modesty to scream a little – the final game of the 1972 Canada-Russia series comes to mind. But then we would just as quickly put our flags away and return to rolling our eyes at the way Americans refused to quit waving theirs.
And then the 2010 Winter Olympics came along.
The Vancouver Games changed something fundamental in our country. We rooted for our nation in a way we never had before. The celebration was passionate and sustained and could be heard from coast to coast to coast. In many ways we haven't stopped cheering since. This is only a good thing.
Our new-found sense of country was on display again this week in the streets of downtown Vancouver. They were packed with thousands for our nation's birthday, with most people wearing something red or white, and if they weren't they were carrying a flag or having one of those faux Maple Leaf tattoos pasted on their face. There was a cross-section of demographics, but if the throng skewed toward a particular cohort, it was young adults. It seemed fitting that the crowd was particularly dense at Jack Poole Plaza, around the famous Olympic torch – the iconic symbol of the 2010 Games that truly lit the new wave of patriotism our country is now experiencing.
It was a Canada Day scene that was played out across the nation.
Interestingly, while we are taking more overt pride in where we live these days, just the opposite seems to be happening in the U.S., according to a story Friday in The New York Times. At least there appears to be a waning among young people in the devotion shown to traditional symbols of American democracy such as the flag.
For decades, patriotism in the U.S. has been measured by the American National Election Study, an institute that possesses data on political attitudes and behaviour in the country going back to 1948. Its surveys on patriotism are conducted every four years through in-person interviews with 2,000 randomly selected Americans. In the most recent sampling, those between the ages of 69 and 86 were viewed as most patriotic, saying they "loved" America, while only 58 per cent of millennials (people between 18 and 33) said they felt the same. Meantime, 78 per cent of the older generation said they considered their American identity important to them, while only 45 per cent of millennials agreed with that statement. (Baby boomers and Gen-Xers occupied territory somewhere in between.)
The most recent survey suggests that the response to questions about patriotism may be a generational thing and not compelled by stages in a person's life – which would be a change from earlier polls.
"Past generations have declined only marginally in their nationalism over time – they start out high and mainly remain so. But today's youngest generation begins adulthood with much lower levels of fondness for the symbols of America, and if the past is a guide there is no reason to expect it will increase as they age."
With young adults in the U.S. seemingly less inclined to drape themselves in Old Glory, the Times' story suggests it may be that coming of age in an era of globalization and being part of a more ethnically diverse, less homogeneous society means that conventional emblems of American life hold less importance. Still, while millennials may be less devoted to cherished symbols, the recent patriotism survey indicates they are no less dedicated to the country's treasured democratic ideals.
Perhaps a new, more subdued style of nationalism is emerging in the U.S. Just as Canada gets louder and more visibly patriotic by the day.