Holidays on holy days

I have another opinion piece in the Dom Post today, ‘though this time, it’s not on-line. I’ve scanned a copy: click on the thumbnail to see a largish and legible-ish version of it, and then click again to increase the size so that you can read it.

The argument is quite straightforward: in order to accommodate the increasing diversity in our society, instead of having public holidays on Christian festivals, but not on other faiths’ holy days, we should change the law to allow each person to choose two ‘public’ holidays for her or himself. This would enable Christians to celebrate Christmas and Easter, and Muslims to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, and Hindus to celebrate Diwali, and so on.

And there’s a fairly standard argument raised in response by those who would like everything to just stay the same and suit them so that they don’t have to make any changes whatsoever: all those people from other ethnicities who came here knew what the rules were before they arrived, so they can just lump it.

In the column, I point out that these days, many people of other faith traditions, meaning non-Christian traditions, were born here, and in any case, many have become citizens, so they are entitled to the same rights as other citizens.

But evidently that argument was too subtle for one of my in-laws, who quizzed me tonight about the column, and raised the standard argument, even though I had addressed it already. I quietly seethed, but simply argued the point back, and suggested that given that we live in a diverse society, and that diversity is increasing, then as a matter of practical living, we simply must find ways of rubbing along together. She desisted, thank goodness.

Because otherwise, I would have had to point out that if immigrants were to simply take on board the rules that were in existence when they arrived, then we would all be celebrating Matariki. And I don’t imagine that she would have liked that at all.

I came across one interesting snippet when I was writing the column. Our Holidays Act says that the purpose of the Act is:

to promote balance between work and other aspects of employees’ lives and, to that end, to provide employees with minimum entitlements to—
(a) annual holidays to provide the opportunity for rest and recreation:

(b) public holidays for the observance of days of national, religious, or cultural significance:

(c) sick leave to assist employees who are unable to attend work because they are sick or injured, or because someone who depends on the employee for care is sick or injured:
(d) bereavement leave to assist employees who are unable to attend work because they have suffered a bereavement.

Source – Holidays Act 2003, section 3 – Purpose

The emphasis is mine.

I don’t think the Act is fulfilling its purpose. It gives employees entitlements to holidays for Christian religious purposes, but no holidays are allowed for any other faith’s religious purposes. Either the Act needs to be changed, or some consideration needs to be given to marking religious festivals in faiths other than the Christian faith.

As usual, I ended the column with a slightly quirky descriptive line about myself.

Deborah … would like to take a day’s leave each year to celebrate Darwin’s birthday.

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6 comments on “Holidays on holy days

  1. bri says:

    Any effort to change the Act would probably be greeted with the same (or similar) response to what you would get in Australia – which would be ‘Oh but this is a Christian country!’

    Makes me so cranky.

  2. Denny says:

    Another argument put forward to maintain the status quo is that employers in small businesses might struggle to accommodate a range of different public holidays. They struggle to accommodate sick leave, so I’m not sure if that suggests that one more straw will break the camel’s back, or that small businesses can cope with one more issue that has to be managed.
    It’s a debate that we need to have as NZ becomes more diverse. Kiwis are proud to speak of our tolerance and ability to embrace people of all backgrounds. The Holidays Act suggests that the debate needs to be, not about whether we accommodate the needs of other religions and cultures, but how we accommodate them.
    Thanks for pointing out the Holidays Act, it’s central to the debate.

  3. Mr Bee says:

    I like the column. The one argument in the other direction is that, on shared holidays, at least other people stop sending you work emails! Maybe all religious holidays should require annual leave to be taken. We could then have shared holidays on other non-religious dates, such as 20 June and 16 October.

  4. David Winter says:

    I believe the standard commemoration for Darwin Day is the “phylum feast” – an attempt to fruits from as many branches of the tree of life as possible (since we are usually limited to a few bulked-up grasses, fish, a few mammals and one dinosaur species when it comes to food). This year I just read some of The Voyage of the Beagle – which is a really interesting read and outsold The Origin for a long time.

    Oh, and though I see the fairness of this proposal, I’m a little like Mr Bee in that I quite like the days when very nearly everyone is forced to take some time off and chill out a little. But I guess we’d maintain days of national and cultural significance, and let people chose their religious days.

  5. violet says:

    I’m a bit concerned that people whose religions present many holiday opportunities will get lots more holidays than agnostics and atheists – and that’s religious discrimination!

  6. nicjs28 says:

    In Malaysia, all the holidays are recognised which gives it one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the world. Most of the time shops will stay open (and the malls are packed), but it also depends on their religion. So at Chinese New Year, most Chinese owned shops are closed. On Muslim holidays the Muslim shops are closed and so on. But all of the offices and schools are closed and everyone enjoys the holidays. Also, the govt tries to encourage understanding of the holidays. One aspect that has become shared on many of the big ones is ‘open house’ where you visit each other’s houses and eat a lot!
    As a foreigner, I love it.

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