Friday, May 29, 2009


As I contemplated the passage of yet another year I thought to explain the term natal day. No, I’m not traveling to Natal, that beautiful resort city in northeastern Brazil or going to the natatorium for a quick dip. Rather, I have just celebrated or perhaps just noted the forty-third anniversary of my 23rd birthday on May 24. Yes, I am closer to the end than the beginning.

I started traveling to Canada in the 1970’s on business and then enjoyed ski holidays especially at Mont Tremblant in Quebec (Hello Dubois). I later traveled to Nova Scotia and other provinces across Canada where I found wonderful people, great food and a rich language (OK, two languages) that embraced many words we fail to recognize or at least use regularly in the lower forty-eight.

In 1983 I was in Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia given my position as President of the Keith Clan Society of the United States on the occasion of the International Gathering of the Scots and Keith Week when they not so coincidentally were also celebrating their Natal Day replete with parades, concerts, sporting activities, fireworks, huge birthday cakes, all sorts of parties, talent shows, markets and many other celebratory events including the First Nation inspired and unforgettable clambake on the beach with lobsters, corn, potatoes, shellfish and, yes, clams. What a party!

Even though Nova Scotia has been a member of the Canadian Confederation since its inception on July 1, 1867, and Prince Edward Island (PEI) since July 1, 1873, it seems that the only excuse the provincial Fathers needed to formalize this founding via a recognized Natal Day holiday was the arrival of the railroad tracks in the Halifax area in 1895. An explosion of civic pride ensued and a formal celebration of the founding of these two provinces mostly on the first Monday in August continues to this day as a holiday of great importance.

Of special significance for me and my ilk is the participation and sponsorship of the Alexander Keith Brewery of Halifax in these natal day festivities. Not only do they brew a damn fine product (love their India Pale ale – “Those who like it, like it a lot”), they also represent an important link to the past for my Family in the person of brewery founder Alexander Keith, also the three time mayor of Halifax. His great grandson Sandy Keith along with other members of the Keith Clan Society of Canada were great hosts and I cherish the memories of that trip which were for me kind of an epiphany and rebirth. I thank the then Nova Scotia Premier John MacLennan Buchanan for his hospitality and for the honor of being named an Honorary Citizen of Nova Scotia and pray that I never follow a man of his erudition and elocution on any program, ever again.

While some with a more theological perspective might have us celebrate our natalis as the date of our burial and “festival of the highest order to be dead to our vices and to live to righteousness alone,” the reality is that the term "natal" springs from the Roman-era, Latin word for birth and, hence, Natal Day is the official “birthday” of the two aforementioned provinces, my birth, your birth and yet another excuse to rub shoulders with some great people and party hearty.

So, no doubt probably just to be different and to embrace my Friends in Canada I have since 1983 used Natal Day to refer to the date of my birth though not like a depressed Emily Jane Bronte of Wuthering Heights fame, I was not, “alone on my natal day” nor do I like Alexander Pushkin, “curse my natal day.” It is what it is and no more. I am assured that my Mother was nearby.

So, when you especially - in these trying economic times - want to meet folks of your ilk in a very special place with all the charisma of Europe and without the heavy tariff, consider celebrating your natal day whatever the date by going to Nova Scotia and explore Cape Breton, take a cruise on the Bluenose II, pack a picnic and spend the afternoon at the lighthouse at picturesque Peggy’s Cove, watch the changing of the guard of the 78th Highland Regiment at the Citadel (Fort George) in Halifax, watch the heroic fireworks displays on the Angus Lewis MacDonald bridge between Halifax and Dartmouth, take a really fun tour of the Alexander Keith Brewery (one of the oldest breweries in North America) or go down to Privateer’s Wharf for fine dining and maybe even a Keith’s India Pale Ale (or two). Now isn’t that the skirl of pipes I hear?


Ned Buxton

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