Georgina Guedes

Cancel Christmas?

2012-06-21 13:19

Georgina Guedes

A series of public meetings on the revision of public holidays started in Durban’s City Hall this morning. The event has been arranged by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities after a number of complaints were received about the fact that South Africa’s public holidays only acknowledge Christian days of observation.

I am sympathetic to this complaint. Although South Africa might be a predominantly Christian country, we claim to pay heed to the cultural diversity of our citizens, and to have separation of church and state, but the government still tends to lay Christianity on pretty thick.

At the same time, we’re a little too heavy on the public holidays as it is – especially in April – and so the obvious solution of simply adding a couple more from other faiths doesn’t strike me as particularly sensible.

And abolishing Christian public holidays to make space certainly won’t wash with the majority of South Africans – I think that’s the sort of behaviour that gets politely referred to as election suicide.

Every company where I’ve worked has quietly worked around the religious holidays of other faiths, accepting that those people don’t come in on those days. As far as I know, they’ve never had to take annual leave for those days, and they certainly haven’t come in over Easter or Christmas to make up for it.

But I’m sure that other, less sympathetic industries might pressurise their staff to come in on their religious holidays, and refuse to pay them double pay or overtime for doing so.

So what then is the solution? Most of our public holidays are days of importance to certain segments of our population – whether for reasons of religion, politics or reconciliation – and I don’t think that our economy could take the strain of more working days lost to government-sanctioned downtime.

Perhaps, instead, every citizen, regardless of faith or lack thereof, should receive a bundle of four “days of observation” in a year for them to allocate wherever they see fit. The standard Christian holidays should then be scrapped, although most people will naturally fall into the pattern of a March or April and December break in line with tradition.

This is a solution that should accept the diversity of beliefs of all citizens, but give them the flexibility to observe their own faith without professional or academic judgement being passed.

And atheists can drive to work on days when there’s no traffic, and enjoy a hot sauna and massage on any other day they see fit, four times a year.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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