I have to admit as a Canadian I rolled my eyes and shook my head when I heard the Canadian Government was thinking about changing some of the words in our national anthem. First, because there are more important things for our government to focus on. And second, because you just don’t do that. The national anthem is based in our history, our heritage – you simply don’t change that by tinkering with the words of an anthem which reflects this history.
According to Wikipedia, a national anthem is a self-identifying musical symbol of a nation, with the general intent of connecting a national (person) with the idea of his or her nation. If you really feel times have changed and you need to change this “connection” between the nation and the idea of our country, then pick a new song entirely. I remember saying to my husband at the time that you’d never hear of the U.S. trying to change the words of their national anthem. It made me wonder about our own self-confidence and need to “please”, and also made me feel somewhat disappointed in us as a nation. Thankfully saner minds prevailed, and that was dropped, but it didn’t go unnoticed in the U.S.
I hoped this little “bump” would be our best kept secret so the world wouldn’t begin to mock us and call attention to this as an example of one of the many stereotypes often associated with Canadians (which were showcased in the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics). Boy was I surprised when I noticed a blog posting on this very topic (O Canada, Who Are You?) on the popular technology blog Technorati. That the anthem issue had been picked up and reported on outside of Canada was my first surprise, and disappointment. And, that it was on a technology blog of all places really surprised me! Regardless, the author Paul Sogge gave a very poignant history of Canada’s national anthem and in many ways educated me as a Canadian. (I’d forgotten that our anthem was originally French, written by Calixa Lavallée). Not only does Sogge point out that we’ve had a habit of if changing the words (in English) for a long time, but that from the very start the English words weren’t aligned with the French. As a bilingual Canadian, I know it’s often hard to directly translate, but he does have a point.
I’ll let you read the blog posting since it’s very informative (even if delivered by an American – an inquisitive one at that!), but I thought this statement was extremely powerful: “at some point, you have to agree as a nation what it is you stand for. That’s why it is called a national anthem and not a this-is-what-it-means-to-me improvisation”.
Let’s stop the improvising with our anthem and focus on the right issues!