French Official: We Should Replace Some of Our Christian Holidays with Jewish and Muslim Ones

If you work in America, you likely have Christmas Day off because it’s a federal holiday. While there are arguments to be made about how that’s an illegal establishment of religion, it also just makes sense from an employer’s perspective. If the majority of your employees would be taking the day off, anyway, why bother having anybody come in?

In France, Dounia Bouzar, a recent appointee to the country’s National Observatory of Secularism, made some controversial remarks to the magazine Challenges when she suggested that the country would be better off replacing a couple of the Christian holidays with Jewish and Muslim ones:

Dounia Bouzar

“At the moment, every French person celebrates Christmas, and I think our public holidays should include one Jewish festival and one Muslim festival,” she said.

Rather than simply adding those dates on to the list of public holidays, however, the anthropologist insisted: “We must replace two Christian festivals with Yom Kippur and Eid.”

Christian leaders are upset at the suggestion because it would mean the loss of power and privilege and tradition. Jewish leaders are saying there’s really no demand or need for it. And at least one Muslim leader opposes the idea, too, because he doesn’t want Muslims getting blamed for the loss of a Christian holiday:

“It’s totally normal to consider other [religious] communities, but we should simply add these two festivals, and not replace any,” Abdellah Zekri, president of France’s Observatory against Islamophobia, told French daily Le Figaro.

“Otherwise, people will say, ‘They want to rob Peter to pay Mohammed,’” he concluded.

It’s important to note that Muslims make up less than 10% of the population and Jews make up about 1%. Christians constitute about 90% of the population. Does it really make sense to replace some of the Christian holidays to appease other, vastly smaller religious groups for the sake of “inclusion”?

And where does that even stop? Why not celebrate Hindu holidays? Sikh ones? Buddhist ones? What’s the threshold for getting the government to grant your religion a federal holiday?

It’s all a fascinating thought experiment and one that’s not going to lead to a change anytime soon. Event Bouzar has backed off a bit from what she said:

“It was just a thought, not an actual proposal,” she told Le Figaro on Thursday. Bouzar claimed that radical Islamists in France were feeding off a widespread feeling of alienation and marginalisation among French Muslims, and that recognizing a Muslim holiday could undermine radical recruitment.

“So I said to myself that giving Jewish and Muslim festivals a symbolic place [in the French calendar] could be one way to pull the rug from under the feet [of sectarianism].”

You have to applaud the attempt at political correctness, but the proposal stood little chance of working, at least at first, if implemented. Too many people would take Christmas off, whether or not they actually celebrate the holiday, while non-Muslims are unlikely to celebrate Eid or non-Jews Yom Kippur.

But Bouzar deserves to be praised for raising an important question: In a secular country, should the holidays of one religion be given special status over others?

(Thanks to Scott for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Glasofruix

    Christians constitute about 90%

    Ummm, yeah well, at least 90% of these 90% don’t give a damn about religion (but like holidays) and are “christian” only because during their childhood their grand parents promised them money and toys if they agreed with the whole mumbojumbo.

  • regexp

    “If the majority of your employees would be taking the day off, anyway, why bother having anybody come in?”

    Isn’t taking Christmas off a rather recent concept? It was a pretty minor holiday until last century.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I am not sure that political correctness is anything to be applauded.

  • Willards69

    When I worked for the Arizona Dept. of Economic Security, I thought it was soooo wrong that we took off for Christmas, sometimes we got a four day holiday. Why not allow govt employees to pick x amount of holidays. People of various beliefs would choose different days off usually, then someone would be available to offer services, such as emergency food stamps, there would not necessarily be overtime.

  • Daniel_JM

    Wikipedia has some interesting links to several surveys on religion in France, and none of them says 90% of French people identify as Christians. The numbers seem to be around 40 to 60%, and in some of the surveys the people who identify as Christian are more likely to say they don’t believe in god than say they believe in a personal god. In one survey only 17% of Catholics said they believed in a personal god. Are there more reputable surveys out there that say that 90% of France is Christian? I didn’t spend a lot of time looking, but I don’t think that is what most polling shows.

  • chicago dyke, TOWAN

    my religion (Inanna worship) requires that i have every three day full moon cycle off for worship and reflection. and sacrifice, but let’s not go there right now.

    you violate my constitutional rights by denying me that time off, once every 28 days. and my religion? older and better sourced with actual texts than xtians. i can prove that. we kicked out the xtians, several times. for stupitidy. it’s in their own texts.

  • ZeldasCrown

    I also feel that a “swap” approach would be reasonable. “i’ll work Easter Sunday if I can have x holiday off.” Feasibility depends somewhat on the business (if only one person working is ok, or if there has to be several employees present to warrant opening). it’d work great in places that have to be open every day, like hospitals, regardless of whether it’s a holiday or not.

  • JMM

    I would so love to see this happen in the great America where equality shines so bright. This would start some real crap from Christians.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I cannot work on Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter because of state law so this concept would not work for me but I love Christmas regardless. I get a tree, decorate it and purchase gifts for my daughter. I just don’t do any of it in the name of a god.

  • elida

    I have a better idea! Rather than taking holidays away from anyone, why don’t we just make every religion’s most holy days a federal holiday and give everyone more time off to be with family, or observe their holiday, or whatever. This way everyone wins!

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Thankfully she is not an American official because FOX wouldn’t stop talking about this for months. I know some teapublicans will blow their lid over this regardless but on a personal note, I love me some Christmas time.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Except, you know, the economy.

  • LesterBallard

    I’m sure Fox will mention it anyway; probably something like if this happens in France we will have Sharia in the US next, something logical.

  • Charles M Taylor

    Oh bull. Any money not spent that day will get spent the day before or the day after.

  • TnkAgn

    Workers in France get leave and floating holidays, much like in America, only more so. If your fool religion requires you to take the day off, take it. Don’t expect your government to validate your silly superstition.

  • Whythen

    So atheists don’t have any holidays, right? Why should they?

  • momtarkle

    I think that your “90% of 90%” is brown data.

  • Whythen

    Correction — Christian extremists.

  • Whythen

    Is that the one where Madonna’s your goddess?

  • Whythen

    I suppose you can just go and edit that in Wikipedia then, to whatever you think is more accurate ;)

  • Glasofruix

    It is, but until now i haven’t met a religious french person. I live in the french part of Belgium and i have a lot of french friends (been a student until last year) and even around here it’s hard to find any practicing catholics.

    You’ll also never find any politician blabbering about god or the bible (it’s bad for your career).

    What’s even more amusing is that my union and social security company have the word “christian” in their names, and i didn’t find any mention of skyfairy on their websites or flyers, no crucifixes in their offices either.

  • HollowGolem

    Couldn’t there just be no federally-mandated holidays, and instead federally-mandated days off that employees can take whenever they want? Maybe an extra 3-5 “cultural heritage” days or something that people can use for whatever religious festivals are meaningful enough to them.
    Then French Pastafarians could take off Talk Like a Pirate Day.

  • David Joseph Post

    It sounds like this concept would especially work for you because it specifically addresses government mandated holidays and would be changing the state/federal law.

  • Erp

    For the record French national holidays according to one source are

    January 1 – not religious
    Good Friday – Western Christianity (locally observed)
    Easter (Sunday and Monday)- Western Christianity
    May 1 – Labour day, not religious
    May 8 – VE day (Victory in Europe, WW2)
    Ascension Day (a Thursday) – Western Christianity
    Pentecost (Sunday and Monday) – Western Christianity
    July 14 – Bastille day, not religious
    Aug. 15 Assumption of Mary – Roman Catholic subset of Western Christianity
    Nov. 1 – All Saint’s Day – Western Christianity
    Nov. 11 – Armistice day (end of WW1)
    Dec. 15 Christmas day – Western Christianity
    Dec. 26 St. Stephen’s day – Western Christianity (locally observed)

    So there are 5 secular national holidays (New years, Labour day, VE day, Bastille day, Armistice day) and 6 Christian national holidays plus 2 other Christian holidays that are locally observed. Note that Christmas was a relatively unimportant Protestant Christian holiday (the Puritans banned it [though they also banned celebrating Easter]); it has been an important Catholic holiday for at least a 1000 years (but always behind Easter Sunday).

  • Jacqui H

    Scrooge *was* pretty ticked about his employee asking for christmas off…

    (edited because allein reminded me that I need an “A Christmas Carol” refresher :) )

  • WallofSleep

    There are a few federally mandated, secular holidays in the U.S, that theists and atheists alike can enjoy. Independence Day is the first one that springs to mind.

    As to why atheists should or should not have any holidays, I have to say that is probably the dumbest question I’ve heard all day. Sorry, but that’s about the nicest way I can put it.

  • TheG

    It is what is called “consciousness raising”. Just bringing it up makes people think. That’s a good thing.

  • TnkAgn

    I never said that. And WallofSleep has your response.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    We have a few blue laws left on the books. Even car dealerships are closed on Sundays.

  • Houndentenor

    When I worked in offices as a temp in NYC a large number of people were either Jewish or Catholic. On the major holidays for both (most notably Yom Kippur and Good Friday) all work came to a screeching halt by noon since at some point whatever was making the rounds in a group would land in the in-box of someone who wasn’t there (and in some cases not even checking their email). there wasn’t much point in any of us being there. Of course half the time I was singing at services for one of those so I was also part of the problem (although making more money than I would have if I had been there. I would sometimes have to explain to British, European or Asian colleagues why no one was answering their phone on a week day (esp for the Jewish holidays). So yes, some of those as holidays might actually be nice, but I don’t see it happening nationally. maybe state wide. “First Day of Deer Season” or “Last Likely Decent Beach Day” or some other holiday might be just as appropriate considering the employee makeup and region.

  • Houndentenor

    In America, most people get a bank of days to do with as they wish. If they want to use them for religious holidays that’s their business. If they just want to take off for one of those days because they got a cheap flight to somewhere they can do that too. That seems to have worked out well. Europe has far more of these specifically Christian holidays than America. I remember being in Paris on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday which would never occur to an American as a necessary religious holiday but everything was closed.

  • Thiriel

    Hmm, I would have to agree with the whole “add not replace” dilemma, for much the same reasons that Abdellah Zekri stated.

    Maybe give employees a choice between which holidays they want off, within reason, of course. Depending on the job, they could take Jewish holiday X (sorry, don’t know many Jewish holidays), and come in on Christmas and/or Christmas eve and catch up on some work.

    Seems fair to me.

  • Ann Onymous

    Scrooge got ticked off if you asked for another bit of coal in your sputtering, pitiful fire. His generosity (or far more often, lack thereof) isn’t really anything to go by for general attitude.

  • Jeff

    Have to disagree. My business is open on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Christmas Eve. We’re swamped. It may be naive to think that a “holiday” means we all stay home with family. Either we shop, or we go together as a family to the movies. Black Friday may not be an official holiday, but it is an example of a “day off” and an economic boost

  • momtarkle

    Well played, Glassfruit.

  • UWIR

    Obviously repealing blue laws would be an even higher priority that allowing flex vacations.

  • UWIR

    Unfortunately, a sense of entitlement is not an extreme phenomenon among Christians.

  • Devi Taylor

    I feel like Christmas has been sufficiently secularized that it can be celebrated as a neutral holiday without any reference to Christianity or any other religion. Additionally, Christians co-opted the day from the pagans, so I don’t feel like it “belongs” to them anyway.

  • GoodWithoutgod

    I’m an atheist who is happy to take my 6 weeks annual leave when it suits; graduations, family birthdays, a holiday with my SO or just a much needed break. (I do enjoy Queens birthday weekend though.) Fuck Christmas! :D

  • Amor DeCosmos

    Wikipedia is just a place to start. All true skeptics should look to several sources for corroboration. Wikipedia is just proof of how awesome/ awful a democratic system is/can be.

  • WallofSleep

    “Fuck Christmas!”

    Just remember, you brought this on yourself…

  • The Other Weirdo

    You talk as though retail is all there is to an economy.

  • The Other Weirdo

    That in no way negates the bed point being made by the comment I was replying to.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Except the “consciousness raising” is done in only one direction, with self-appointment people we didn’t elect being the final arbiters of what is proper and what is not proper speech.

  • allein

    Bob Cratchit isn’t Scrooge’s nephew, just his employee. His nephew is Fred, who invites him to Christmas dinner (to which Scrooge responds with, “Good afternoon”).

  • King Dave

    What does santa have to do with this?

  • Mark Eagleton

    I propose we replace every holiday with four global celebrations: 1 week off at each solstice and a three day weekend at each equinox. They are equally placed throughout the year by design, and they are annual markers that effect all living things on our planet equally.

  • Donalbain

    No. Because France is not a federal state. There is no “federal” anything.

  • Helix Luco

    oh no! everybody’s gonna completely forget about the needs of christians! oh nooooooooo!

  • Mira

    I agree. I’m secular, but Christmas has always been important to us as a family because it would be the one time people weren’t deployed and we could be together. It’s a family time for me, and I love it.

  • Beth

    There are many retail stores that require workers to come in on Christmas. I used to work for JC Penny and we worried that we would have to work Christmas bc Sears, KMart, and Walmart were all open Christmas that year. Many stores are starting to open on holidays, even limited hours. Maybe larger companies and the government have the day off, but it’s not a given if you work minimum wage jobs.

  • Ed Selby

    This lends credence to the falsehood that Christmas is a uniquely and specifically Christian holiday.

  • TheG

    Uh… yeah. I think that might be a perception problem on your side rather than an actual thing.

  • SeekerLancer

    I don’t think they’re talking about the big ones like Christmas. A lot of European countries are off of work on smaller religious holidays, like the Catholic holy day of obligation type stuff.

  • Guest

    Weird/ Normal way of saying/ stating stuff.

  • Brian Geary

    France is no more secular than Israel. France us a nation with a Christian history. They have a right to celebrate Christianity.

  • Brian Geary

    Ni, that’s Christianity again…at least it was until she became Jewish..

  • Ingersollman

    What about festivus? You know, for the rest of us.

  • guest

    Ideally, no, in a secular state no religion’s holidays should be given special status, but at the same time, I would hesitate to get rid of Christmas or Easter, simply because employers would be quite happy to take these holidays away from their employees and replace them with nothing. I quite like the fact that there are certain days of the year where I am almost guaranteed to see my family, and it’s kind of nice to have all the people you know off at the same time. Here in England, we don’t even have a national day (they’re tied up with Saints anyway) so I don’t know what we’d do if the Christian holidays were taken away.

    I wouldn’t want to celebrate Eid…that involves fasting. But Yom Kippur seems alright. I like the idea of a day of atonement and burying old grudges. I’ve always fancied participating in the Hindu festival of Holi as well; it looks like fun.

  • guest

    Except for people living on the equator…and the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere is the autumn equinox for the southern hemisphere, which makes the connotations around them quite different.

  • raerants

    Festivus falls in the same time frame as Christmas, so it’s already covered, albeit not explicitly.

  • Charles M Taylor

    Depends on where you live. One that I worked for was open on Sundays.

  • Charles M Taylor

    Financial markets are also closed on various holidays around the world and the economy seems to tick along just fine.

  • travshad

    May, Spring, and Summer Bank Holidays and New Years Day are not Christian holidays.

  • Flambe

    While i like the idea of being religiously inclusive, it can get a bit crazy. I thought the Nepali calendar was bad enough with all the holidays, but now we’ve added Christmas, Eid, Buddha’s Birthday, and some other indigenous religious festivals to the official state roster of holidays. There seem to be more holidays than workdays at this point.

  • HollowGolem

    What a meaningless semantic point.

    “Couldn’t there just be no nationally-mandated holidays, and instead nationally-mandated days off that employees can take whenever they want?”


  • Catherine Lee

    No. How about that?

  • Catherine Lee

    thanks for making woman look bad, Bouzar! joke. these blogs are always awesome thanks.