• France edition
 
French row over plan to swap Christian holidays
People carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary leave La Major Cathedral in Marseille, on August 15, 2013, during a procession celebrating the Christian feast of Assumption. Photo: Franck Pennant/AFP

French row over plan to swap Christian holidays

Published: 26 Sep 2013 14:23 GMT+02:00
Updated: 26 Sep 2013 14:23 GMT+02:00

Despite France’s long and often rigid tradition of church-state separation, a strict form of secularism known as “laïcité,” the French working calendar is dotted with several national holidays based on Christian festivals.

That state of affairs has for years angered strict secularists and atheists, as well as Muslims, Jews and members of other religious faiths, whose holidays are not similarly recognized by the French state.

This week, a senior French official reignited the debate by suggesting that two Christian festivals should be struck of the calendar of public holidays and replaced by one Muslim and one Jewish festival.

Her views have sparked a firestorm of controversy in France, with one Muslim leader condemning the idea as akin to “Stealing from Peter to give to Mohammed.”

'Why not a holiday for Sikhs and Freemasons, too?'

Dounia Bouzar, newly appointed to the National Observatory on Secularism, mooted the plan in an interview with Challenges magazine on Monday.

“At the moment, every French person celebrates Christmas, and I think our public holidays should include one Jewish festival and one Muslim festival,” she said.

Rather than simply adding those dates on to the list of public holidays, however, the anthropologist insisted: “We must replace two Christian festivals with Yom Kippur and Eid.”

Catholic priest and journalist, Fr. Stéphane Le Messin, for his part, rejected the idea out of hand.

“Christianity is an integral part of French culture,” he told The Local. “Yes, there have been Jews in France for many years, and Muslims as well, though to a lesser extent, but the difference is that these religions are not an important part of French history, in the way that Christianity is,” he added.

“Also, the majority of French people are Christians. If we added Jewish and Muslim holidays, why not a day off for Sikh festivals, or a national holiday for Freemasons?”

SEE ALSO: OPINION - 'FRENCH WORKERS NEED THEIR PUBLIC HOLIDAYS'

'Robbing Peter to pay Mohammed'

Bouzar’s idea has also received criticism from the Muslim community. said the Muslim and Jewish festivals should be added to the Christian ones, rather than replace them.

“It’s totally normal to consider other [religious] communities, but we should simply add these two festivals, and not replace any,” Abdellah Zekri, president of France’s Observatory against Islamophobia, told French daily Le Figaro.

“Otherwise, people will say, ‘They want to rob Peter to pay Mohammed,’” he concluded.

Students and workers can already take a day off for religious festivals

French Jewish groups have voiced their opposition to the idea to add Yom Kippur to the calendar of national holidays.

Elie Petit, vice-president of UEJF (French Union of Jewish Students), a group which actively opposes anti-semitism and racism in French society, was pragmatic in his view of the proposal.

“There’s just no great need or demand from within the Jewish community, or wider society, to change the current system of public holidays,” he told The Local.

“We don’t consider it discrimination that there are Christian national holidays – France is a secular country but with a long Christian history, so it’s natural that the state would acknowledge that heritage in certain ways,” he added.

“In any case, students and workers in France are already entitled by law to take days off for their own individual religious festivals, so we don’t see any reason to change things,” he concluded.

Since the controversy erupted over her statements this week, Bouzar has backed down somewhat.

“It was just a thought, not an actual proposal,” she told Le Figaro on Thursday. Bouzar claimed that radical Islamists in France were feeding off a widespread feeling of alienation and marginalisation among French Muslims, and that recognizing a Muslim holiday could undermine radical recruitment.

“So I said to myself that giving Jewish and Muslim festivals a symbolic place [in the French calendar] could be one way to pull the rug from under the feet [of sectarianism].”

Is it unfair to have Christian holidays, but not Jewish or Muslim ones? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

Don't miss debates like this - join us on Facebook and Twitter

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Suspects identified in Frenchman's beheading
A photo paying homage to French tourist Hervé Gourdel who was beheaded in Algeria. Photo: Jean-Christophe Magnenet/AFP

Suspects identified in Frenchman's beheading

Some of the suspects in the kidnapping and beheading of French tourist Hervé Gourdel in Algeria have been identified, a minister in the north African country said on Tuesday. READ  

Budget 2015
Crisis-hit France eyes slow but steady recovery
Protesters in France make their feelings clear about the government's efforts to balance the books. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Crisis-hit France eyes slow but steady recovery

The French economy will recover gradually over the next four years and Paris will meet the EU's deficit targets by 2017 - two years later than planned, the country's finance minister forecast on Wednesday. READ  

PSG 3 - Barcelona 2
PSG's Blanc: 'We do our job for nights like this'
PSG's Blaise Matuidi leads the celebrates after his team's famous victory over Barcelona on Tuesday night. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

PSG's Blanc: 'We do our job for nights like this'

French champions Paris Saint-Germain earned a historic victory against Spanish giants Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday night. Here's all the reaction from PSG's delighted coach Laurent Blanc and his counterpart at Barca Luis Enrique. READ  

Swiss bankers pay €1bn in French fraud case
Swiss banker UBS has made a huge payment in a French fraud case. Photo: AFP

Swiss bankers pay €1bn in French fraud case

A Swiss banking behemoth accused of advising wealthy French people on how to conceal their money in Switzerland has paid a court-ordered bail of €1 billion. READ  

French welfare cuts
'Having kids in France will soon be a luxury'
Will cuts threaten France's health birth rate? Photo: Philippe Demazes/AFP

'Having kids in France will soon be a luxury'

Family associations and sections of the French media have lined up to blast the government for its plans to cut key family benefits, which they say will harm one of France’s greatest economic strengths – its high fertility rate. READ  

Woman, 76, raped 'for telling youths to be quiet'
A 76-year-old woman was brutally raped in retaliation for telling some men to quiet down. Photo: AFP

Woman, 76, raped 'for telling youths to be quiet'

After a 76-year-old woman told a group of young men to quiet down outside her apartment building near Paris, they retaliated by brutally raping her and then looting her home, according to reports in France. READ  

French workers threaten to blow up factory
Workers at a vacuum factory in France have threatened to blow it up. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

French workers threaten to blow up factory

With boss-napping apparently a passé option, French workers angry over planned layoffs at a vacuum factory have threatened to blow up the plant where they work. READ  

Paris to unveil new app to help find a taxi
Paris has created a new app that is meant to make finding a cab a bit easier. Photo: AFP

Paris to unveil new app to help find a taxi

Paris will roll out its brand new smartphone app on Wednesday which is supposed to make the sometimes impossible task of hailing a taxi in the French capital a little easier. But will it be of any use? READ  

French pharmacies shut up shop in protest
It'll likely be harder than usual to find an open pharmacy in France. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

French pharmacies shut up shop in protest

All but a handful of pharmacies in France will be closed on Tuesday as part of a nationwide strike against government plans to weaken the monopolies held by self-employed professionals like lawyers, doctors and notaries. READ  

Champions League
PSG will play to win against Barcelona: Blanc
PSG coach Laurent Blanc says his side will stick to their footballing principles against Barcelona. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

PSG will play to win against Barcelona: Blanc

PSG coach Laurent Blanc said his team will play to win against Spanish giants Barcelona when they meet in the Champions League Group F clash in Paris on Tuesday. Blanc's side however will have to do without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Marks and Spencer: Win €300 toward your new autumn wardrobe
International
This explains why the French never seem to get a sense of déjà vu?
National
VIDEO: Here's a view from the Eiffel Tower you haven't seen before
Travel
Do Paris's iconic rooftops deserve Unesco World Heritage status?
Opinion
'France cannot reform, the pilots' strike showed us this'
National
'We just don’t work hard enough in France.' Is that true?
International
France has moved to beef up security in various public places
National
Hiking naked in France does not come risk-free
Culture
10 French customs that confuse Anglos
National
IN PICTURES: A look inside France's 'most notorious' prison
International
Isis urges killing of 'spiteful, dirty' French
National
Paris installs new device to stop 'love lock' craze
National
Paris cabby dies in vicious high-heel attack
National
'Paris is a sexy city, its beauty is inspiring'
Culture
Depardieu: ‘I drink 14 bottles of booze a day’
National
Top French chefs want banned bird on menu
National
VIDEO: Making of French rugby hunk calendar
National
Ten great bars in Paris only locals know about
Society
France's top expat tribes: Which are you?
National
France to set flat-rate for Paris airport taxis
Politics
French separatists want Scots to say 'yes'
National
Anti-dog poo offensive launched in French town
National
Scammers attack Paris's top cop at tourist hotspot
National
French leader didn't pay his rent for three years
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se