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

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.

Why is Good Friday not a holiday in (most of) France?
Eating chocolate is absolutely still allowed during lockdown. Photo: Joël SAGET / AFP

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.

It’s always been something of a puzzle why a country that gives workers the day off for Annunciation, Assumption and All Saints, among others, doesn’t have a holiday for Good Friday – the Friday before Easter.

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. 

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.

The procession of Easter’s Holy Thursday at Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. Photo: AFP

But not everywhere.

Much to the envy of most workers in France, those living in the eastern Alsace area, now part of the Grand Est region, 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 the day after Christmas.

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.

Member comments

  1. 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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Abstention to far-right surge: 5 key takeaways from France’s parliamentary elections

An 'unprecedented' result in the parliamentary elections leaves France facing parliamentary deadlock and an uncertain future - as the dust settles from Sunday's votes, here are some of the main talking points.

Abstention to far-right surge: 5 key takeaways from France's parliamentary elections

The results are in from Sunday’s parliamentary elections, with president Emmanuel Macron losing his parliamentary majority. The final results showed 245 seats for Macron’s Ensemble coalition (44 seats short of an absolute majority), 131 for the leftist alliance Nupes and 89 for the far-right Rassemblement National.

Here are 5 of the biggest takeaways from the historic result:

Far-right surge – the big surprise of the elections was the huge gains made by Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party, something that had not been predicted by pollsters.

Although Le Pen came second in the 2017 presidential elections (and again came second in the April 2022 election) her party had previously performed poorly in parliamentary elections, winning just eight seats.

That all changed on Sunday, as RN surged to a massive 89 seats, making them the third biggest block in the parliament and the largest single party (since Ensemble and Nupes are both alliances of multiple parties).

This is the best ever result for Le Pen’s party, and it also means the financially-troubled party will be eligible for more funding from the State, which is allocated on the basis of parliamentary representation.

A confident Le Pen said her party would demand the chair of the powerful finance commission, as is tradition for the biggest single-party opposition.

“The country is not ungovernable, but it’s not going to be governed the way Emmanuel Macron wanted,” Le Pen told reporters on Monday.

Minority government – Macron now faces governing in a minority, after his Ensemble coalition won the largest number of seats, but not enough to form an overall majority.

His position is not as bad as his predecessors Jacques Chirac and François Mitterand, both of whom were forced to govern in ‘cohabitation after their parties lost the parliamentary majority. Cohabitation occurs when the president’s party is not the largest party in parliament, and the president is then forced to appoint as prime minister the leader of the party with the parliamentary majority.

Macron’s loss of an absolute majority, however, means he faces five years of shaky alliances and deal-making with opposition MPs in order to get any legislation passed. Previous presidents have spent part of their term with a small minority but to begin a five-year term with such a large minority – 44 seats short – is unprecedented in the Fifth Republic.

READ ALSO What next for France after Macron loses majority?

France divided – the most striking thing about the new electoral map is how fragmented it is – no party or group dominates overall and there are few ‘local strongholds’ for any party.

This is reflected in the overall results for the parliament, in which Macron’s party has the largest number of seats but no majority and no other party has a clear mandate to dominate parliament.

The leftist Nupes alliance failed in its ambition to become the single largest group in parliament and force Macron to appoint the far-left veteran politician Jean-Luc Mélelchon as prime minister. 

After decades of domination by the two big parties of the centre-left and centre-right these elections confirm the trend seen in the presidential elections in April – that French votes are bow divided into three roughly equal blocks; the far left, far right and centre.

The increasing acrimony between the groups also lead to the collapse of the Front républicainthe traditional pact where voters from across the political spectrum band together to vote against any far-right candidate who makes it through to the second round of voting.

The failure of candidates of both Macron’s centrist group and Mélenchon’s leftist group to call for a strong Front républicain contributed to the unexpected success of Le Pen candidates.

OPINION France has voted itself into a prolonged and painful crisis

New faces – The Macron government lost three ministers – health minister Brigitte Bourguignon, environment minister Amélie de Montchalin and maritime minister Justine Benin – who all failed to be elected. They don’t technically have to quit their ministerial roles, but Macron said before the election that he expected ministers who lost elections to step down.

The other 12 ministers who were standing for election won their seats – in the case of Europe minister Clément Beaune by just 658 votes – but a government reshuffle is now on the cards.

One of the most high-profile of the newly-elected candidates is Rachel Kéké, a former hotel maid who came to prominence leading a campaign for better working conditions at her hotel in the Paris suburbs. She was elected as the Nupes candidate, defeating Macron’s former sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.

The north-east suburbs of Paris now has a husband-and-wife MP combination, as Alexis Corbières was re-elected in Bagnolet while his wife Raquel Garrido won her first term in neighbouring Bobigny. They both represent the hard-left La France Insoumise and Garrido is originally Chilean, moving to France as a child after her parents fled the coup in 1973. 

The new parliament is slightly less gender-balanced than previously, with 215 female MPs out of a total of 557. The 2017 parliament counted 224. 

Turnout – the elections saw a record low turnout, with just 46 percent of registered voters casting their ballot papers. This marked the lowest turnout rate for parliamentary elections since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958, a three-point fall on 2017 which previously held the record.

The second round of voting also saw a fall in turnout from round one the previous week, when 48 percent of voters turned out.

The abstention rate follows the trend of the presidential elections in April, which also saw a record low turnout for a presidential election.