• 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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France sees steep rise in deaths of street children
Homeless children pictured on the streets of Paris. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

France sees steep rise in deaths of street children

New figures released this week laid bare the problem of homelessness in France with 454 people living on the streets having died last year. That total included 15 children, which was a steep rise on the previous year. READ  

France's New Government
Hollande plays final card as he splits from left
Presidnet François Hollande and in the background his new Economy Minister - the former Rothschild banker, Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

Hollande plays final card as he splits from left

France's embattled president played his final card this week in naming his third government that included a former Rothschild banker as Economy Minister. The move was a clear, but potentially hazardous break from the left of his party. READ  

Parisian kicked off flight 'because he smelled'
A passenger was reportedly forced off an American Airlines plane because he smelled. Photo: Vincent Desjardins/Flickr

Parisian kicked off flight 'because he smelled'

An investigation is underway to see whether American Airlines may be guilty of discrimination after a passenger from Paris claims he was forced off a plane because he smelled. The airline denies the allegation. READ  

Hollande puts economy in hands of ex-banker, 36
Emmanuel Macron, aged 36, is France's new Economy Minister. Photo: AFP

Hollande puts economy in hands of ex-banker, 36

The French President revealed on Tuesday the names of the ministers in his new government tasked with pushing through crucial reforms. The key role of Economy Minister went to former banker and key Hollande ally, Emmanuel Macron, aged just 36. READ  

VIDEO: Top five street scams to avoid in Paris
Here are five street scams everyone should know about in Paris. Photo: Screengrab/YouTube

VIDEO: Top five street scams to avoid in Paris

Here's a look at five well-known street scams that tourists and visitors to Paris regularly fall victim to and how best to avoid them. READ  

Bulging to-do list awaits France's new government
Presidnet François Hollande and PM Manuel Valls have a lot of work to do. Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP

Bulging to-do list awaits France's new government

France will get its third government in just over two years on Tuesday and its list of tasks is looking pretty daunting. How many goals on this to-do list will they achieve? READ  

French chefs rebel over harsh online reviews
French chefs have launched a petition to stop angry online reviews. Photo: Cooking.

French chefs rebel over harsh online reviews

Left largely without recourse against what they claim to be "dishonest" online reviews, French hoteliers and restaurateurs have launched a petition to ban "insulting" or "defamatory" reviews. READ  

Liberation of Paris
IN IMAGES: Paris marks liberation from Nazis
French soldiers mark the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris at the Town Hall in the French capital on Monday night. Photo: AFP

IN IMAGES: Paris marks liberation from Nazis

France's top leaders and many of its veterans gathered on a rainy Monday night to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Paris's liberation from four years of Nazi occupation during WWII. Here are some photo highlights. READ  

French political crisis
Press review: 'Save France from the radicals'
Symbolic photos of Hollande under the rain decorated the French press on Tuesday morning. Photo: Screengrabs from Le Figaro/Le Monde/Le Parisien

Press review: 'Save France from the radicals'

Needless to say France's political crisis produced scores of headlines and column inches in the French and international press on Tuesday, as well as plenty of photos of the president under the rain. Here's a look at what the papers made of the day's dramatic events. READ  

Air France pilots threaten September strike
Air France pilots have warned of a major strike in September. Photo: Tab59/Flickr

Air France pilots threaten September strike

More travel chaos could be on the way after Air France pilots threatened a strike during the month of September. The pilots are angry over a massive corporate reorganization plan. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
International
VIDEO: Watch the top five street scams to avoid in Paris
Politics
Take a look at the bulging to-do list that awaits France's new government
Politics
Six questions for France after Hollande ousts rebels
International
Choosing schools in France: Do you go international or French?
Gallery
From kissing to bad-mouthing: Ten ways expats in France drive you mad
Culture
Ten things you need to know about the Liberation of Paris:
Travel
Watch this impressive time lapse video and you'll want to move to Paris
National
Veiled Muslim woman on a French beach prompts politician's angry rant
Travel
Forget Paris and Provence where are the least touristy areas of France?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The battle to liberate Paris from the Nazis
National
What France means to you in just one tweet
National
15 French 'false friends' you need to watch out for
International
12 reasons to invest in Paris and seven not to
National
French hamlet 'Death to Jews' mulls name change
National
French tourist caught in Pompeii brothel romp
International
'Forget the Anglo-media's image of France, the reality is much different'
Culture
VIDEO: Francophile Robin Williams enjoyed poking fun at the French
Travel
Six reasons why France is the world's top tourist destination
International
Remembering the 'forgotten campaign' in the liberation of France
Gallery
VIDEO: French bucket list - The 12 best things to do in France
International
Do three French cities deserve to be in top 10 "World 's Most Unfriendly"?
Gallery
Don't make a faux pas! Ten things not to do when working in France
Health
Ebola: What is the risk of it coming to France?
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