THE SIX French bank holidays marking Christian festivals should all be abolished, a politics expert says.
Writing in L’Obs, political scientist Thomas Guénolé says the fact that more than half of the bank holidays are Christian is unfair to non-Christians and contrary to the secular values of France.
Mr Guénolé writes: “In this country we have one bank holiday to celebrate the resurrection of the son of God [Easter Monday], another to express joy for him rising into heaven [Ascension] and yet another to celebrate the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles [Whit Monday – the day after Pentecost].
“There is a fourth, this time for the messiah’s mother rising into heaven [Assumption]. A fifth to celebrate all of the Christian martyrs [All Saints Day – Toussaint], and finally a sixth to recycle the Pagan Roman Saturnalia in the form of a celebration of the birth of the son of God – him again.”
This might make sense in the Vatican, but in France it represents “flagrant and colossal incoherence with regard to the principles of secularism”, Mr Guénolé says.
What is more this means that Christians are automatically able to celebrate their main festivals with their families, while people who follow other beliefs have to take holiday days to mark their special days, whether it is Jewish Hanukkah, the Muslim Eid al Adha, or the festival of St John in Summer for Freemasons.
The usual arguments fall flat, says Mr Guénolé.
For example it is often said that France has Christian roots. In fact, says Mr Guénolé, its roots are Pagan originally if you go back to the Gauls and Romans – and even the Franks were originally Pagan, worshipping gods similar to the Norse pantheon.
He adds that Judaism has existed in France for at least 2,000 years and the son of King Herod lived in Gaul. Islam has existed in France since at least the 13th Century and atheism has a tradition going back at least to Cyrano de Bergerac in the 17th Century.
The Revolution, which is the foundation of the modern French state, was secular and rationalist,Mr Guénolé says.
As for the argument that the Christian festivals are ‘traditional’, so was human sacrifice in ancient Gaul or burning witches in the Middle Ages.
“Every human community can, at any time, pick and choose between those traditions it keeps and those it does not.”
He says one solution could be just making the bank holidays extra holiday days, to take when people want.
Another would be to replace them with secular dates – perhaps the Battle of Valmy (a victory by revolutionary France against the Prussians seen as confirming the legitimacy and strength of the new government), the abolition of slavery, or the date when women gained the vote.
“If instead we just go on keeping these six Christian festivals it will just prove that we only apply the principle of secularism when we feel like it.”