Do We Need More Holidays?

By Renee Sylvestre-Williams

Canada has nine federal public holidays: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day, Christmas and Boxing Day. Ontario has two additional holidays: Family Day on the first Monday of February and the Civic holiday on the first Monday of August.

Most of them are secular holidays but the two religious holidays, Good Friday and Christmas, are Judeo-Christian. That makes sense when you look at the history of Canada, a country colonized by the French (Christian) and the English (also Christian despite the tendency to fight among themselves about religion).

With the changing demographic of Canadian citizens, does it make sense to have new, non-Judeo Christian holidays? Should they be official, day-off type holidays?

I say yes. I come from Trinidad, a country where Eid and Divali are national holidays and quite a few non-Hindu and non-Muslim people celebrated or acknowledged them. I’ve stood in assemblies about Eid and Divali (and African emancipation and Indian Arrival Day, but I digress)  in my Catholic school. Trust me, most of us were just happy to have another public holiday. I think most Canadians wouldn’t mind more public holidays. Public holidays are awesome.

Besides, people are celebrating their holidays and some institutions are happily (and some not so peacefully) accommodating them. Brampton allows fireworks for Divali but in Hamilton, they’re looking at upholding a bylaw that limits fireworks to Victoria Day and Canada Day despite calls from cultural groups.

Institutions who have tried to accommodate other religions in an attempt to be inclusive have found themselves ruled exclusionary. York University used to cancel classes during Jewish holidays. The Human Rights Commission found that this policy was discriminatory considering at the time, 5.8 per cent of York’s students were Jewish while 4.8 per cent were Muslim. York University repealed the holidays, claiming that the commission’s decision wasn’t part of the decision.

Maybe the next step is for the governments at all levels to declare secular public holidays for various religions. In other words, Eid, Divali and other days will be holidays and you can do what you please. Christmas seems to be the best example of your-mileage-may-vary celebrations. Some treat it like a religious holiday, while some people, like me (an anemic Catholic at best), think of it as a week-long holiday culminating with New Year’s celebrations and weight gain.

The question then becomes who gets a public holiday?

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9 thoughts on “Do We Need More Holidays?

  1. You need to differentiate between the Judeo-Christian religious tradition and the specific holidays, which are either Jewish or Christian, but not both. There is nothing remotely Jewish about either Christmas or Easter (and most Jews still have to book off Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover, none of which are remotely Christian)! In fact, if you know anything about the history of either holiday, you’d know that Easter in particular has traditionally been a terrifying time for Jews with an upswing in pogroms and general anti-Semitism, due to accusations of Jews killing Jesus, the blood libel, etc.

    Please check your facts.

    • Incidentally, on the topic of inaccuracies, the article also needs fixing in its discussion of York University.

      First, it says that “York University used to cancel classes during Jewish holidays”. In fact, York University only did so during Jewish high holidays. It did not do so during the other Jewish holidays on which Jewish law forbids Jews from attending classes. Presumably this was because, even among the many Jews who choose not to conduct themselves in that way, the high holidays are still observed, so that an overwhelming majority of the estimated 5.8 percent of the student body don’t attend classes on those days. The distinction is important, as anyone who is an observant Jew and attended York University was always required to miss classes and make them up afterwards — the opposite of what is implied.

      Second, it says that “the Human Rights Commission found that this policy was discriminatory”. In fact, it made a preliminary finding that the policy may be discriminatory and that it should be tested at the Human Rights Tribunal, but ultimately abandoned that course of action. As the courts later explained in 2010 (http://canlii.ca/t/29fj4, para 105): “The complainant is simply wrong in the assertion he made in his letter, which he repeated at the hearing, that the report and recommendation of the Commission’s investigation unit meant that York’s policy had been found to be in violation of the Code. Under the provisions of the old Code, where the Commission decided to investigate a complaint, and where the complaint had not been settled, the investigator would make a recommendation to the Commission as to whether the matter should be referred to the Tribunal for a hearing. Neither the recommendation of the investigator, nor the decision of the Commission to refer a complaint, constituted a finding that the Code had been violated.”

      Of course, given the article’s predilection for adding the suffix “Judeo” to the Abrahamic faiths, it’s not clear why comparing the estimated number of Jewish and of Judeo-Islamic students is relevant, as the observance of Jewish high holidays would surely be of the utmost importance to what are, apparently, the Judeo-Christian and Judeo-Islamic faith traditions!

  2. I think your final question describes why we’ll never see any more religious public holidays. It is too difficult to determine which group’s holy day to make a public holiday.

    I’m all for more holidays, but I think we are more likely to see employment laws change to accommodate different religions (which the law already does), rather than trying to specify precisely when people will get a day off.

  3. Yeah, I don’t understand “Judeo-Christian”. There is certainly nothing Judeo about the statutory holidays you mentioned. We don’t talk about Eid as a Judeo-Islamic holiday, do we?

  4. Really, please do something about the Judeo-Christian Chrismas and Easter reference. It’s starting to look downright offensive, deliberate and myopic.

  5. I used Judeo-Christian to reference the historic ties between the religions including common elements of literature, beliefs, values and even historic figures.

    • Why not Islo-Judeo-Christian then? Islam is pretty tied to Judaism in terms of beliefs, values and historic figures.

      There is nothing ‘Judeo’ about resurrection of Jesus.

    • That part is mostly accurate, but referring to Christmas and Easter as Judeo-Christian holidays is laughably thick-headed, especially that you still insist on it when several people have corrected you.

      The people behind this site should know better, even if you don’t.

    • Yes, this is the usual Christian usage of “Judeo-Christian” — Judaism as the extinct precursor that was completed by and subsumed by Christianity. We’re actually still here, thanks.

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