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Why is Good Friday not a holiday in (most of) France?

The Local France
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Why is Good Friday not a holiday in (most of) France?
Children take part in an Easter egg hunt near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Despite many other Christian festivals being public holidays in France, Good Friday is not a day off for the majority of the country. Here's why.


Easter holidays are traditionally a time for families to gather and eat chocolate - but the four-day weekend is a tradition that only one part of France gets to enjoy.

The Friday before Easter - which this year falls on March 29th - is a public holiday across much of Europe.

And it has always been something of a puzzle why France - a country that gives workers the day off for Ascension, Assumption and All Saints, among others - doesn't have a holiday for Good Friday.

And it's even more weird when you consider that in some parts of the country it is actually a holiday. 


The tradition of treating the Friday before Easter as a normal work day didn't start until 1905 when the country officially became secular, dividing the Church from the state. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

From then on, unlike the rest of Europe, French workers have been forced to treat Good Friday, called Vendredi Saint in French, as a day just like any other.

But not everywhere.

Much to the envy of most workers in France, those living in the départements of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle - which make up the historic Alsace region in eastern France, do get a day off on Good Friday.

And the reason for this is Alsace's rather complicated history of switching hands between Germany and France. 

In 1871 Germany seized Alsace including most of the departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin as well as most the department of Moselle in the region of Lorraine.

The territory wasn't returned to France until the end of the First World War in 1918. 

At that point citizens of the territory weren't exactly thrilled at the idea of losing the day off and simply refused to give it up...perhaps demonstrating a French side to their natures which hadn't been lost during all those the years of German rule.  

Their demands were met and the piece of legislation which makes the region an exception, known as the Concordat of Alsace-Moselle, sealed the deal. 

And in fact, it is for this same reason that this region gets St. Stephen's Day, also known as Boxing Day, as a day off like many other European countries.  Those living in the rest of France however have to return to work on December 26th.


Perhaps unsurprisingly there have been regular challenges to the Concordat, with many arguing that the region should have the same rules as the rest of the country. 

Although as Eric Sander, local law expert in the Grand Est capital Strasbourg, pointed out to France Bleu, there are unlikely to be any politicians willing to fight that particular battle.

Easter Monday

So following that logic, Easter Monday is presumably a normal day in France too?

No, actually Easter Monday is a public holiday.

And it's unique in the French holiday calendar in that it's the only day off where there isn't either a national event or a Christian festival (although it's obviously linked to Easter, the main day in the Christian calendar is Sunday, when Jesus rose again after being crucified).

It was Napoleon who made this a public holiday back in 1802 when he trimmed down the 50 or so public holidays that the French celebrated at the time.

So why didn't Easter Monday get the chop along with Good Friday in 1905?

Er, well look, we never said France made sense. Just enjoy the day off.


Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2022/04/08 17:16
One correction. The French do not have Annunciation Day (March 25) off, but Ascension Day off (a Thursday that is 40 days after Easter - this year on 25 May).

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