Celebrating health holidays

Hungarian being my mother tongue, I often wonder about the use of certain words in my adopted English language. With the approach of the summer season, I took interest in the word holiday. In the Hungarian language there is one word for government-ordered and religiously or culturally observed days off, and a different word, equivalent to the word vacation, to describe taking time off from one’s duties. Somewhat similarly, the distinction between holiday and vacation is observed in the English usage in the United States, as in: “Christmas holidays are coming but this year I am taking my vacation in April.” In contrast, in Canada the word holiday is commonly used in reference to both, as in: “I am going on holiday in April.” 

The observance of a cultural or religious event on a particular day is announced as “the day of . . .” in Hungarian, and in Canada the heading of a list of special days is usually the “days of . . .” or “observance of . . . .” 

So, I was surprised to find several websites based on the US listing “days of” or “observance of” events, under the “health holidays” title; thus, incongruously abandoning the usual limitations of the US use of the word holiday.  

Health holidays in January 2018 include Women’s Healthy Weight Day, and World Leprosy Day. February 2018 listings include World Cancer Day, National Tooth Ache Day, National Condom Awareness Day, and Rare Disease Day. Virtually every day in 2018 is booked for a health holiday of some kind, including National Medical Group Practice week. 

Health holidays in the US are essentially individual- or community-based promotions and not established or controlled either by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion or by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Similarly in Canada, there is no central authority responsible for the proclamation of national days. Special days may be recognized in Canada when declared by any public body, including all levels of government, international bodies such as the United Nations, private organizations, and cultural or religious institutions. However, a clear distinction is maintained between observances that are legal holidays set out in the Holiday Act and the Canadian Labour Code and observances that are symbolic in nature. 

Currently there are more than 80 National Days of Observance in Canada. Examples with some health relevance include: National Organ and Tissue Donor Week (last full week of April), National Day to Promote Health and Fitness for all Canadians (first Saturday in June), National Blood Donor Week (week surrounding 14 June), International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December). 

There are also a number of observance days that are tangentially connected with health, such as: International Women’s Day (8 March), Workers’ Mourning Day (28 April), Canadian Environment Week (week surrounding 5 June), National Seniors Day (1 October), International Day of the Girl Child (11 October), and Human Rights Day (10 December). 

As yet, there is no Day of the Blogger observance declared either in the US or in Canada, even though there might be a health relevance if the blog is written by a retired physician on holiday. 
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Additional reading 
Health holidays. Holidays and observances.com. Accessed 12 June 2018. www.holidays-and-observances.com/health-holidays.html
Library of Parliament Research Publications: Designation of national days and observances in Canada. Parliament of Canada. Accessed 12 June 2018. https://lop.parl.ca/content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2015-06-e.html

This posting has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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