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Replace religious holidays with secular ones, suggests French mayor

Critics have called the idea ‘scandalous’

The Republican calendar in France should be more pluralist and secular, MP and mayor Eric Piolle has said Pic: ALEX S / Shutterstock

A French mayor has suggested religious bank holidays be replaced with secular ones in an idea that has sparked opposition from some right-leaning senators.

Eric Piolle, mayor of Grenoble (Isère, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) and a Green MP (EELV, left-wing), called for a more “secular and pluralist” calendar that would be more inclusive for all different types of holidays.

For example, he said the national calendar should mark days such as the Abolition of Slavery Day, which is currently only observed in overseas departments in France.

Currently, France has 11 ‘bank holidays (jours fériés)’, of which six have their origins grounded in religion: Christmas, Easter Monday, Pentecost Monday, All Saints’ Day, Ascension, and Assumption.

‘Spiritual convictions and secular festivals’

Mr Piolle made the comments after Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin admitted to having asked for an “evaluation of the level of absenteeism seen due to Eid al-Fitr”.

Mr Piolle told BFMTV: “Pupils [and adults too] have the right to be absent for religious festivals. Whether the festivals are Jewish, Buddhist… a list exists. But I think that’s discriminatory. I think we can make our calendar more pluralist for religions, and have days off in function of your spiritual convictions.”

“Let's remove references to religious festivals in our calendar,” he added. “Let's declare public holidays for secular festivals that mark our shared attachment to the Republic, the revolutions, the Commune, the abolition of slavery, women's rights, or LGBT people's rights.” 

He added that he would not necessarily want to reduce the number of days but change their focus. He said that data from French public opinion institute IFOP showed that in 2021, just 6.6% of people in France said they were practising Catholics. He called himself “practising, but non-believing”.


But the idea has provoked a strong response. 

Senator Stéphane Le Rudulier (Les Républicains, centre-right), said that getting rid of religious festivals would be “out of the question”. 

He instead countered with a legal proposition to “consecrate our country’s festivals of Judeo-Christian origin in our Constitution”. The proposal has now been signed by more than 20 other senators.

Mr Le Rudulier said: “The French people are still attached to the traditions that they have always grown up with. [They are] unforgettable culture and social markers and symbols appreciated by the vast majority of people in France.

“Wanting to get rid of them is exactly what Robespierre did during the Terror [post-1789], or what Soviet communism did.”

Similarly, Essonne MP and president of the political party Debout La France (right to far-right), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, called the suggestion “scandalous” and said: “We must resist this ‘woke’ madness of deconstructing our civilisation. Enough! Let us be proud of our history, our culture, and identity.”

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