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Pentecost: The French public holiday where people work for free

Pentecost: The French public holiday where people work for free
Some shops and offices will be closed on Monday. Photo: AFP
Monday is a public holiday in France, but unusually not everyone gets the day off. Instead some people will be given the attractive option of working as usual but without being paid.

What is the public holiday?

This year Monday, May 24th marks the Christian celebration of Pentecost (Pentecôte) and is also a public holiday in France.

Despite being a secular state fiercely proud of its tradition of laïcité, there are several religious holidays in France which are also public holidays – Christmas and Easter plus Ascension Day earlier in May, Assumption in August, All Saints Day in November and Pentecost.

Pentecost marks the day in the Christian calendar when the Holy Spirit descended to the Apostles after the crucifixion of Jesus. It is celebrated seven weeks after Easter, so the date moves from year to year depending on when Easter falls.

And people in France get the day off?

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Some do, some don’t.

The day is a public holiday in the official state calendar, but while some people get a day off work, others go in as normal, except they aren’t paid.

Wait, what?

It’s because of Solidarity Day. This was introduced in 2005 and the idea was that all wages from that day would be handed over to a government fund, which would be spent on extra care, support and services for the elderly.

It was introduced after the heatwave of 2003, when more than 15,000 French people, most of them elderly, died in the sweltering temperatures.

That sounds like a nice idea.

Well maybe, but it’s become rather a mess in recent years, and now nobody really knows what the situation is.

In 2005 when the idea was introduced the Pentecost holiday was scrapped and everyone worked as normal and handed over their wages. But many felt that the idea was simply a PR stunt, and questioned where exactly their donated wages – estimated to add up to around €2.3 billion – were spent.

After three years of public anger the idea was scrapped and in 2008 Pentecost went back to simply being a holiday.

So now no one works?

Well that’s where the confusion comes in because some companies are still doing Solidarity Day, some are doing a modified version of Solidarity Day, and some are offering a day off.

Civil servants, post office workers and those who work in banks get the day off, so all public offices and banks will be closed on Monday.

At some companies, the workers have negotiated their own deal with the boss – for example at SNCF the workers struck a deal that said they would work an extra one minute and 52 seconds every other day of the year and in exchange they would get Pentecost off. And some firms offer employees a choice of either working the day without pay, or taking the day off but using up a day of their annual holiday entitlement to do so.

Like we said, it’s complicated, so the best thing is probably to check with your boss.

Predictions of heavy traffic on the road from the Bison futé site suggest that this year many people are planning on taking the day off and taking advantage of their newfound freedom from lockdown to enjoy a long weekend away.

Here at The Local we’ve decided to give ourselves the day off and contribute to charities that benefit the elderly in our own time.


Member comments

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  1. Pentecoste. This is so funny. Especially the negotiated deal between Sncf and its workers. You couldn’t make it up.

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