• France's news in English
 
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

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
Trial after Frenchman dies downing 56 shots
Photo: Shutterstock

Trial after Frenchman dies downing 56 shots

Is a bar owner responsible for the death of a client who dies after downing 56 shots? That’s what a criminal court in France will have to decide this week as the French government moves to crack down on binge drinking. READ  

Paris Terror Attacks
Did extreme right figure arm Paris terrorist?
Police outside the Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris that was hit by a terror attack in January. Photo: AFP

Did extreme right figure arm Paris terrorist?

A Frenchman with links to the extreme right is suspected of supplying the weapons that jihadist Amedy Coulibaly used in a deadly attack on a Jewish supermarket in January. READ  

Central African Republic
France urges sex abuse soldiers to come forward
French soldiers on duty in Central African Republic have been accused of raping young boys. Photo: AFP

France urges sex abuse soldiers to come forward

France's defence minister has urged soldiers "to give themselves up" if they are guilty of sexually assaulting hungry Central African kids, as questions remain on why the probe into the alleged crimes is taking so long. READ  

Anti-US sentiment aids French fighter jet deals
French President Francois Hollande (C-L) is welcomed by the Governor of the Riyadh Province in January 2015. Photo: AFP

Anti-US sentiment aids French fighter jet deals

French President François Hollande is in the Middle East on Monday to seal another lucrative deal to sell Rafale fighter jets. Experts say the deals are all down France's policy in the Middle East combined with suspicion of the US. READ  

Ligue 1 Round-up
PSG edge closer to title with win over Nantes
PSG's Blaise Matuidi celebrates with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the team's 2-0 win at Nantes on Sunday. Photo: AFP

PSG edge closer to title with win over Nantes

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, fresh from a three-match ban, helped Paris Saint Germain to a 2-0 win at Nantes in Ligue 1 on Sunday, moving them a step closer to their third consecutive French title. Here's a round-up of the Ligue 1 action. READ  

Le Pen family feud reaches boiling point
Le Pen family punch-up: Jean-Marie steals the limelight from Marine on May 1. Photo: AFP

Le Pen family feud reaches boiling point

France's far-right National Front chief Marine Le Pen said on Sunday her father should "no longer be able to speak in the name of" the party. READ  

French boat saves 217 people from sea off Libya
A makeshift boat filled with migrants spotted last month by an Italian Navy ship, in the Mediterranean sea near Lampedusa. Photo: Italian Navy

French boat saves 217 people from sea off Libya

A French navy ship sent to boost EU migrant patrols in the Mediterranean rescued 217 people Saturday off the coast of Libya, officials said. READ  

Charlie Hebdo says prize protesters are 'confused'
Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard(L) speaks as film critic, Jean-Baptiste Thoret, looks on. Photo: AFP

Charlie Hebdo says prize protesters are 'confused'

Two of the surviving journalists from French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo brushed off controversy over a literary award on Friday. READ  

Femen and her father ruin Le Pen's big day
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Femen and her father ruin Le Pen's big day

Bare-chested Femen activists making Nazi salutes disrupted a speech by France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen for five minutes Friday at her National Front's traditional May 1st rally in Paris. READ  

Bolivia upholds French couple's murder ruling
Convicted killer Jaime Martinez (c). Photo: Aizar Raldes/AFP

Bolivia upholds French couple's murder ruling

A Bolivian court on Thursday upheld the 30-year prison sentence of a man convicted of killing a young French couple in 2010. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Migrant camps spring up in the heart of Paris
Culture
Only in France? Naked comedian stuns French culture minister
France launches bid to buy Europe's biggest and most spectacular dune
Business & Money
Why May 2015 is the best month in years to work in France
Five great outdoor bars in Paris to check out this summer
Society
French elevator protocol: Greeting, flirting and yes, even sex
National
What's on in France: Ten things to do in May
National
France goes on the defensive after UN experts say 'racism is trivialised'
Double standards? French Muslim barred from class over long skirt
Travel
Getting from CDG airport to Paris by road should now be a lot quicker
International
The French don't seem to care about the UK election and that's normal
France may produce the most wine, but who drinks the most?
National
Why do the French have such a sorry record for recycling?
7Up row could see French language enforced on all flights to Canada
Culture
Take a peek inside France's newest, but oldest tourist attraction
National
How to disguise the fact you are clearly not French
France desperately hunts for church terror plot accomplices
WARNING - When in France use first names with caution
Can France really protect 4,500 churches around the country?
So what does the world's oldest bubbly taste like?
British expats left in lurch by NHS clampdown
Tossing cigarette butts in Paris to prompt €68 fines
Culture
Cannes Film Festival reveals jury
Flamanville: France's nuclear 'calamity' that has the UK worried
Features
Forget the Mona Lisa, here's the weirdest objects you can see around Paris
For many Britons 'Waterloo' is just an Abba song or a train station
IN PICTURES: See the French ship 'Hermione' set sail again for the US
Opinion
Is it time the French scrapped tu and vous?
National
Marine Le Pen makes Time 'most influential' list
National
Sexual harassment rife on Paris trains
Cannes Film Festival line-up revealed
National
Cartoonist's book slams 'Islamophobia swindlers'
National
More French women than men lured by Isis
Society
Les Entrepreneurs: We chat with the founder of Paris Picnic
National
Edith Piaf celebrated at Parisian exhibit
National
Spain's newest export to France: Vultures
How the health reforms will change life in France
Gallery
Naked protests: The French love to take their clothes off to make a point
Travel
So why would anyone really want to live in Lille?
Opinion
Why the French should be very worried about new spying powers
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Then and now - the site of the Alps plane crash
International
Did the Pope reject France's envoy to the Vatican because he was gay?
Did a row over stolen veg lead to the murder of a British expat in 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

?>