We are currently enjoying a 4-day weekend here (and the weather is glorious). Why are we enjoying this long weekend? Because yesterday (Thursday) was Ascension Day. Next weekend will be a 3-day weekend because of Pentecost, otherwise known as Whitsun or Whit Monday. I had to look up the meaning of this event. Here’s what Wikipedia says – Pentecost Monday is a Christian holiday which commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples of Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament of the Bible.
Oh, and August 15th is another national holiday – The Feast of the Day of Assumption.
The Catholic Church adopted this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a reference to the belief in a real, physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body into Heaven.
Sometimes I feel like I’m not living in France, but in the Vatican City.
Just out of curiosity, I looked up the dates of national holidays in Italy. Italy does not recognize the first two above-mentioned holy days as cause for a national holiday. Neither do Spain or Portugal. However, the day of August 15th is observed by all.
And I’m wondering…..why would Ascension Day be cause for a national holiday? I mean, I can imagine it being a holiday in a religious institution or a private Catholic school. But for the entire country to shut down on a Thursday to commemorate Christ’s ascension into heaven??
That seems a bit rich, especially when no other country does the same.
Firstly, I don’t see anyone around here going to church on Ascension Day. Most people just seize the opportunity to take the Friday off as well and hightail it out of town. And secondly, FRANCE IS SUPPOSED TO BE A SECULAR COUNTRY. So, again, why have these Christian holy days been decreed national holidays by the government?
Here’s why – because by observing them, which, by the way, is a blatant transgression of the country’s secular laws, they serve as a reminder to one and all (in case we forgot) who rules around here. Separation of church and state? I don’t think so.
(note – when I say ‘Christian’ I mean Catholic because Protestantism is only 2 per cent of this country’s population.)
But who’s complaining? No-one. You do not see protest marches in the street with citizens clamoring “We want less paid holidays! Down with religious holidays!”
The word ‘secular’ in French is ‘laïcité’, derived from the word ‘laity’ which means non-clergy or layperson. Dominique Moïsi, a French political scientist, said this – “Laïcité has become the first religion of the French Republic.” Brilliant.
There’s a lot of hypocrisy and ambiguity surrounding the practice of this controversial word. But that’s France. Things are rarely straightforward here; much is cloaked in doublespeak, silence and subterfuge.
What’s important, though, is that in recent years the effectiveness of French-style secularism is being debated and criticized. It is believed that French-style secularism masks a larger issue and this issue has a name. Islam. If you want to understand France today, and see how France’s new secular laws (the banning of the full-face veil, for example) are, in fact, linked to what is perceived by the French ruling class as an Islamist threat, read this informative article on the subject.
Is it Time for France to Abandon Laïcité?
A year after the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attacks, it would appear that France’s strict secularism has only exacerbated religious and racial tensions.