The Localist

The Island of Public Holidays

Flipping through the 2014 calendar, my mother mournfully remarks that there is just one public holiday each for the months of March and August this year. It is somewhat of a family tradition to sit around the table and count the number of public holidays for the coming year. For most countries, this is a relatively simple task. After all, how many public holidays could there be? Five? Six? Perhaps a maximum of eight? First we try to list them all by heart. I give up after I’ve used up all my fingers counting.

Every full moon day (called Poya) is a public holiday in Sri Lanka, so that alone means twelve days off work each year. Add Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious diversity to the mix and we are already up to about twenty public holidays.

Sri Lanka is made up of four ethnic groups: The Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors and Malay Muslims and Burghers. We also have four major religious groups: The Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. It’s important to understand that not all Sinhalese are Buddhists, not all Tamils are Hindus, and so on. Basically, Sri Lanka is a melting pot of different ethnicities and religions, and hence a mix of celebrations. So when is New Year for a Sri Lankan? For the Christians and the majority of cosmopolitan Sri Lankans of various faiths, January first marks the beginning of the New Year. It is a time for fireworks, New Year’s Eve (31 December) dinner dances and basically a jolly good time! Then there is also the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year in April, which usually falls on either the 13th or 14th. More fireworks, New Year customs, traditional food and overall fun times mark the occasion.

We also celebrate Independence Day, Christmas, Vesak (a Buddhist holiday that marks the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha), Deepavali (the Hindu festival of light), and Ramazan and Hadji (Muslim festivals) to name a few. The religious and ethnic diversity of the island means that most of the time I am not sure who celebrates what festival within my social groups. I can proudly claim however that I celebrate them all; some more than others, and I’ll gladly accept all the wishes that come my way! Anytime is party time, and I’ll take any excuse for a holiday!

As we sit around the dining table, huddled over our list of public holidays, in typical Sri Lankan fashion the conversation shifts to how there are not enough holidays and what additional days should be declared public holidays. Cricket is on the top of our list, and we all agree that days following crucial day and night matches should be public holidays to account for lost sleep. Knowing that we will now speak enthusiastically about cricket for hours, I sneak a peek at the calendar in front of us. There is a grand total of twenty five public holidays this year. Bring on 2014!


Image. Photo of a Sri Lankan beach courtesy of pacsafe.

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