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Epiphany reignites Sweden's public holiday debate

TT/David Landes · 5 Jan 2010, 13:00

Published: 05 Jan 2010 13:00 GMT+01:00

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As most of the Swedish labour force makes plans for how to spend the Epiphany holiday (Trettondedag jul), there are some who question why exactly throngs of secular Swedes should stay home from work on a Christian holiday, which is only considered a public holiday in a handful of countries.

“It’s a time to focus on the guiding star and the three men who out of curiosity followed the star to Jesus,” Martin Modeús of the Church of Sweden told the TT news agency.

But exactly which days are recognized in Sweden has been a controversial topic, especially since a 2005 decision to ditch the Monday after Whitsunday (Annandag Pingst) as a public holiday and replace it with National Day, which is celebrated on June 6th.

Whitsunday, also known as the Pentecost, celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday, marks the Holy Spirit's descent to the Apostles and other followers of Jesus.

Two years following the switch, the Almega employers’ organization proposed that all public holidays should be made religion-neutral.

According to Almega’s suggestion, each employer would instead define for itself which days would be considered paid public holidays.

Later that year, employees working within the Almega-member Swedish Federation of Consulting Engineers and Architects (Svensk teknik och design) signed a new collective wage agreement which allowed for exactly the sort of choice proposed by Almega.

“That means that employers and their employees can reach an agreement about which days will be considered a paid holiday,” Almega negotiator Gunnar Järsjö told TT.

Story continues below…

But regardless of one’s reasons for celebrating Epiphany, Modéus from the Church of Sweden thinks the occasion should be recognized.

“If for no other reason than that Christmas can be filled with obligations, which makes Epiphany something of a break following the break,” he said.

TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:50 January 5, 2010 by nice1stu
Religious Holidays have lost much of its significance in recent years, as people become less devote in their religions, and also as the world becomes more multicutural, how can you take into account all the variety of religions and their sacred days of celebration?

In saying that I work in an industry that is expected to provide service to the pubic 365 days a year (366 on leap years). Being an Atheist, no religious holidays have any menaing to me, but the one thing I miss is having the opportunity to spend time off with my family when during these holidays, everyone is off at the same time.

Set dates for national holidays give families to have a chance to be together, regardless of their relgious background. Having negotiated holidays with your employer is nice, particularly for the employer who can make all the standard holidays working days so no bonus need to be paid to make you work, and make all the quiet days holidays and force you to take them (like.. strangely enough all holidays are suddenly on 23rd of each month) Also, if my employers choose to celebrate one set of days as holidays, my wife's employers choose another, and our childrens schools yet another... even with holidays, we will never get the chance to spend it as a family, which to me is the more important aspect of holiday days, not the relgious aspect.
19:22 January 5, 2010 by redfish

People are becoming less devout in their religions, which is an issue, but too much is made about of the idea of multiculturalism. Its one of the reasons used to argue why businesses in the United States moved from saying 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Holidays', even though 90% of people here are either Christian or non-religious from a Christian background. Our countries aren't as multicultural as we imagine them to be, its a kind of conceit and a canard.

As for people who are less devout, or have become atheist like you have, I'd still guess you vaguely feel some connections to the cultural traditions of the community. I'm from a Jewish background and not devout or observant, my religious beliefs range between deism and agnosticism, but I still respect and appreciate Christian cultural traditions, and don't demand that Jewish traditions be given equal time just out of political correctness. All religion is in part a way of connecting us to our past and our history, and if nothing else, celebrating Christmas reminds us why we are who we are as a people today.
23:32 January 5, 2010 by Alex Coman
People are not only becoming less devout in their religions, but a lot of them, in western world, become subjects for all kind of cults like Scientology. So, they loose their religion only to become slaves to some ridicule and strange faiths for illiterates. They don t believe in God anymore, but they believe in witches and ghosts.
23:40 January 5, 2010 by Puffin
I haven't heard any controversy about this at all.

This year Swedes have lost many of the public holidays as they fell on weekends
10:40 January 6, 2010 by Jools33
What gets me is these holidays placed right in the middle of the week. I think the UKs bank holiday monday thing is a far better solution. Why the hell should we have holidays on a wednesday - what it means is that folks with cushie jobs get to take squeeze days and work half days - and folks with employers who are less willing to compromise are forced to work whilst everyone else gets time off. Politicians win some years as these holidays fall in weekends - and when they fall in the middle of the week - we can expect half the country to take the entire week off.
15:09 January 6, 2010 by Prionace Piaggio
Puffin is right. it is swings and roundabouts. One year the holiday falls in a week day, but there's no extra day off on the Monday if it falls on a weekend day.

But what about having the half day off the day before the holiday... now that is a liberty!
18:52 January 6, 2010 by farnoxo
I would love to know what industry you work in nice1stu ... given that you are expected to "provide service to the pubic 365 days a year". A maker of merkins perhaps? Oh woe the life of the maker of merkins!
21:12 January 6, 2010 by mumsy64
My husband works in power production, that means that if his schedule falls on Christmas he works it. I've been campaigning for everyone to give up their electricity on major Holy days for years. So far no takers, so this year he trudged off to work on Ash wednesday, Easter, Pentecost(missing his own daughters confirmation), Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and even Epiphany. And you guys are complaining because if the holiday falls on the weekend you don't get an extra day? Question for most of you, "when was the last time you were in a Christian church if these days are so important to you?"
00:09 January 7, 2010 by dizzymoe33
Here in the States only a few holidays are a set day for example Thanksgiving is always the 4th Thursday of November so most people end up with a 4 day weekend off. Which is great for most people who normaly have Saturday and Sunday off. The 4th of July is always what day the 4th falls on, Easter is always either in March or April depending on Leap Year I believe. Labor day is always the first Monday of September so people will always have a 3 day weekend and then school starts for the new year during that week. We have other holidays that usually fall on the day that they are celebrated so if it falls on the weekend then you get no time off.
08:26 January 7, 2010 by nice1stu
Haha... I wish I worked in an industry as exotic as Merkin making, at least I would think working during the Holidays were days well spent. Alas I work in the Casino Industry, have done so for the last 10 years in various countries, most recently now in Sweden. It always saddens me working on holidays, that I can't spend the time with my family, but also that others choose to throw away their money when they could be spending time with their families.

If it was some eseential service that I was employed in, where lives need to saved or law must be enforced, or the power must continue to flow I can understand, but many industries that open on holidays, Casino included is no more then making money. In saying that of course, for me it is my choice to work in this industry and I have come to accept working on holidays.
02:12 January 8, 2010 by insect
I am surprised at how people are fast at complaining how they are forced to work on holidays but are conveniently forgeting the pay package that comes with working on a public holiday!

All I can say is that:

1. If you work in a company that compensates properly if you work on a holiday then Shame on you!

2. If you work in a company that doesn't pay extra when you work on a holidaythen your new year resolution should have been to get a new job at all costs or sue your boss.
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