Victoria Day – is someone amused?

May 23rd, 2016 Sections: Calendar, Tourism
Queen Victoria, by Bertha Müller after Heinrich von Angeli

Queen Victoria, by Bertha Müller after Heinrich von Angeli

Over the weekend I met some friends for a cup of coffee … and, among other topics, at one point the conversation turned to topics featured as postcards here on ianbek.

Now, the postcards tend to fall into a number of categories … reflecting, to be honest, my personal experiences, interests and preoccupations: Geography and History, Mathematics and Statistics, Cultural differences and People’s beliefs, Tourism and Hospitality, Language and Communication, Information Technology and the Internet, Trivia and the vagaries of the Calendar … oh yes, and of course, Kyrgyzstan – places in Kyrgyzstan, the history of Kyrgyzstan, characters from Kyrgyz History, traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz, life in Kyrgyzstan, doing business in Kyrgyzstan, … and so on.

It all began with a comment about Saturday’s postcard about the diplomatic mission of Ruy González de Clavijo to the court of Tamerlane … “an interesting and little known moment of history”.

Incidentally, today is the anniversary if the Battle of Clavijo … another “interesting and little known moment of history” … which, perhaps, is not surprising, because it never actually happened (!).

Clavijo is a small settlement in La Rioja in Spain, with a population of just a couple of thousand people.  Its main claim to fame is that, according to a 12th-century charter, (and later records), the legendary battle of Clavijo, (between the Christian armies of Ramiro I of Asturias and of the Muslims under the Emir of Córdoba), took place nearby in 834AD. Legend has it that the apostle Saint James suddenly appeared and led the outnumbered Christian army to victory and, as a result, became the patron saint of Spain.

It was long considered to be an important moment in the Christian expulsion of the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsular and “one of the strongest ideological icons in the Spanish national identity”, and often chosen as a subject by Spanish artists

… but the 12th-century charter which is the first historical mention of the battle is almost certainly a forgery … the battle is actually just the stuff of legend … and didn’t take place(!).

I pointed out that some postcards for the coming week are already prepared and ready for publication … but that I was still having trouble trying to decide what to feature on certain days.


In fact, most of the time I try to find a Kyrgyz connection, hence yesterday’s reference to a recent book about Sherlock Holmes … that had him traveling through Central Asia to commemorate Sherlock Holmes Day.

I once got taken to task by a reader for a postcard that, he said, had nothing to do with Kyrgyzstan … but to this day I still maintain that he was wrong, that it did … although it contained some general background information and reminiscences from my youth, it was inspired by something here in Kyrgyzstan and contained some comment about my life and experiences here in Kyrgyzstan … and, anyway, I claim that ianbek is just about Kyrgyzstan … but, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I was grateful for the feedback.

Anyway, I was asked: “Are there no holidays you could feature?”

“Well, it is funny you should mention that … everyday is a special day for someone”

Today, for example, is a holiday … in Canada … or, at least in parts of Canada … in 10, (or 11 – there seems to be some confusion about the situation in Prince Edward Island), of the 13 provinces and territories that go to make up the federal state.

The Monday on or before May 24th is a statutory holiday across most of Canada, making for a long weekend in Spring … and in many places it is considered to be the start of Summer.  Why May 24th?  Because that was Queen Victoria’s Birthday (she was born in 1819) … and the day is known as Victoria Day, (except in French when it is referred to Fête de la Reine – literally, The Queen’s Fete or Festival).

For the record: It is also known as National Patriots Day or Journée nationale des Patriotes, commemorating the patriotes of the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837 … and in Quebec as the Fête de Dollard, which commemorated an iconic figure from the early days of the establishment of Montreal – Adam Dollard des Ormeaux.

Until the early twentieth century, the Sovereign’s Birthday was always an important holiday and it is said that this was once “the main holiday of the entire British Empire”, but is now basically forgotten, “even in the UK” … but not, apparently, in Canada!

Canadians first celebrated Victoria’s birthday in 1845 and … a practice that has persisted down to the present day … After her death in 1901 it was given the status of a Statutory Holiday – a day off work guaranteed by law … and continued even through, throughout the rest of the Empire, the day was designated as Empire Day in 1904 … and then renamed Commonwealth Day in 1957 … which, twenty years later, in 1977, was finally moved to the Second Monday in March.

It was in 1952, that the current arrangement of commemorating Victoria Day on the Monday preceding the 25th (so it included the 24th – the birthday itself – if it fell on a Monday) was established.

Interestingly, it seems that Canadians still hold Victoria in high regard … she’s thought of as the “mother of the Confederation” … unlike the general impression that we have of her back in Britain: “boring, stuffy, prudish, dated”; dowdy with a predilection for black widow’s weeds; sinking into isolation and wallowing in grief at the loss of Prince Albert; her seriousness, insistence on everything being ‘prim and proper’ and her disapproval of any kind of levity, (“We are not amused”).

She went through popularity swings during her lifetime as well … popular at times … and distinctly unpopular at others – and was the target of seven attempts on her life.

There is no doubt that during her long and eventful reign, the British Empire, including Canada, underwent expansion and development … but although this former Head of State may be worthy of their respect – that’s not the only reason they still mark Victoria Day  … there’s another, more mundane reason for celebrating … as I said earlier, it is considered to signal the start of Summer.

In the ‘olden days’, there used to be parades, competitions, fetes and festivals, illuminations and twenty-one gun salutes … and, apart from the twenty-one gun salutes, they may still take place in some places … but the main thing that marks this day … is the end of the Winter (Skiing) season and the start of the Summer (holiday) season – when resorts and parks open their doors.


In Issyk Kul, here in Kyrgyzstan, the season started a fortnight ago … on 7th May.


Although the occasion wasn’t marked with a public holiday, it did happen to be the weekend at the end of the 10 day ‘holiday’ period – when we have three Public holidays in the space of 10 days – International Labour Day, Dehn Konstitutse, (Constitution Day) and  Dehn Pobeda, (Victory Day).

In theory … Issyk Kul is now “open for tourists” … actually, it’s always open … all year round – there is always somewhere to stay up at the lake and although many of the resorts work kroogliy-god, (all year round), it’s true that a lot of establishments (pensions and guesthouses) close for the Winter.

The trouble is that many of them have not yet reopened … there are very few holiday makers in May … it’s still relatively cool and many of the attractions and other facilities are not yet ready to welcome visitors.  We had some guests who decided that they heard a lot about the Pearl of the Tien Shan and so they wanted to go and check it out …

So, they ‘checked out’ of the hotel and drove up to the lake … looked around and saw that it was still quiet … “‘dead’ might be a more appropriate word” … so they got back into their vehicle and drove back to Bishkek … and checked back into the hotel.

“At least here in Bishkek,” they told me, “there are people and things to do …”.

I wondered about saying something like, “but there are things to do … it is possible, for example, to go into the mountains … to Karakol, to Skaska and Myrotviye Ozera … ” but, they weren’t amused … They were social people who enjoyed meeting others, chatting, or even just sitting in cafe and ‘people watching’ … and it was too quiet for them.

So, I tried telling them that in in a month, (well, maybe, six weeks), Issyk Kul will be abuzz with people … there will be lots to see … and do … but, unfortunately, our guests explained that they were leaving Kyrgyzstan before then …

“No, problem!”, I quipped, “that just means you have to come back!”


Seriously, though, … it is a problem … and sometimes, it’s worse …

We still, even now, get inquiries for tour itineraries that include a yurt stay, (for example, in Son Kul or Tash Rabat), or treking to Lake Ala Kul … or to travel the spectacular road from Kazarman to Djalal Abad … in May!

We would love, we say, to help … but, instead, have to explain that, unfortunately, the yurts are not normally in place until the second half of June … the passes to Ala Kul may still be blocked by snow and the Kazarman road is closed until the middle of June.




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