When Good Friday becomes ‘Spring Holiday’

When Good Friday becomes ‘Spring Holiday’
Participants of the 72nd Annual Columbus Day Parade in the US last year. The city of Bloomington in Indiana renamed Columbus Day, which marks the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America in 1492, ‘Fall Holiday’. Some regard Columbus’ arrival as the prelude to centuries of oppression of native people. Photo: REUTERS
Published: 4:00 AM, January 13, 2017

The American city of Bloomington in Indiana recently renamed Good Friday the more religiously-neutral “Spring Holiday”. The city’s Mayor, Mr John Hamilton, said the decision would “better reflect cultural sensitivity in the workplace” and “demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity”.

Opponents cried that this was political correctness gone mad. Would Christmas be renamed “Winter Holiday”? For good measure, the city also renamed Columbus Day, celebrated on the second Monday of October each year to mark the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America in 1492, “Fall Holiday”. Some regard the arrival of Columbus as the prelude to centuries of oppression of native people.

Christmas, which is celebrated worldwide, has also taken a beating, no less because it has been overly commercialised as a year-end celebration of sorts for everyone — Christian or not — wanting to be part of the merry-making as a prelude to ushering in the new year.

A few years ago, people in many countries began using the catch-all “Happy Holidays” instead of the traditional “Merry Christmas” to avoid the reference to it being a Christian festivity, partly because Jewish people also celebrate the first day of Hanukkah on Dec 25. US President-elect Donald Trump is just the latest to call for an end to the misguided trend: “Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”

In an increasingly diverse world, as people migrate across the globe for various reasons, whether by choice or circumstance, politicians are confronted with the task of harmonising the mix of different cultures.

This growing diversity has prompted calls to be inclusive — to be sensitive to each other’s socio-cultural and religious practices, and not make anyone feel excluded from the national agenda. However, bending over backwards to be inclusive can actually scrub out the richness of diversity. In this case, neutralising a public holiday celebrated by one segment of the population runs contrary to the very notion of promoting diversity.

If this trend is allowed to flourish, every ethnic festivity other than Christmas faces the dismal prospect of being stripped of its significance, suffering the fate of cultural extinction. We may as well set aside, say the first Monday of every month, as a public holiday to be celebrated by all and sundry alike. Call it by any name but with no apparent reference to any racial, cultural or religious group lest it becomes exclusive. We would then have destroyed the richness of our diverse make-up and be the poorer for it.

Perhaps, as a society becomes increasingly heterogeneous — as in the case of the US, which prides itself on being a melting pot of cultures — a call for inclusion is not to cut out the religious tone of any holiday but include more of other religious holidays.

Singapore is a good example of harmony across multi-racial, cultural and religious lines. Our calendar is marked with various festivities such as Hari Raya Puasa and Haji, the Chinese New Year, Vesak Day, Deepavali, Good Friday and Christmas. Besides these nationally proclaimed public holidays, different ethnic groups also celebrate such festivities as the Mid-Autumn Festival, Thaipusam and, more recently, Halloween.

Each festive occasion is a celebration of diversity and provides the best opportunity for citizens to reach out to wish each other cheer, gather and contribute to the celebratory mood. When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wished Singaporeans “Merry Christmas” last year, he cited two incidents where residents from diverse cultural backgrounds took their own initiative to spread the festive cheer. One, Encik Hamzah Osman placed a Christmas tree in his HDB lift lobby, while Tan Koon Tat set up a snowman and snow machine for his neighbours. This is an example of inclusivity in diversity, where the people appreciate rather than are offended by our different practices.

In his last Christmas message, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged his people to celebrate the country’s cultural diversity. He said: “In Australia we have much for which to be grateful. Not least that so many different people of so many different backgrounds, races and religions live together here in a harmony founded on mutual respect.”

The keyword is “respect”.

Mr Turnbull added: “We also remember those who find Christmas difficult — the lonely, the poor, the sick and those who are away from their families. Reach out to them if you can.” So instead of focussing on any festive holiday as being exclusive to a certain segment of the population, it is a time to reach out to the less fortunate in our society, whatever their background. Now that is really being inclusive.


David Leo is a published author.