Monday, April 2, 2012


Having just thoroughly enjoyed the long weekend occasioned by the celebration of the Spiritual Baptists Shouter holiday I got to thinking about the public holidays that we enjoy in this country, why we have them and what (if anything) we should do about them. You see, including Carnival Monday and Tuesday (which are not officially public holidays but which may as well be, because the entire country shuts down workwise) we have sixteen public holidays a year ... seventeen if you recognise that Ash Wednesday is for at least 75% of the country a 'dies non' (i.e. a non-working day)!

A lot of our public holidays (Christmas, Easter, Divali. Eid ul Fitr, etc.) are religious holy days and obviously can't be changed. But the truth is that we have a fair number of public holidays ( such as the Spiritual Baptists holiday) that could and should warrant another look. Don't get me wrong: I am not advocating the doing away with any of these holidays (except perhaps for the Corpus Christi holiday which I will deal with later). I am of the view that each and every holiday that we have is important in its own right, but that there are several holidays which do not need to be celebrated on the actual day.

Look: we have the following holidays that often fall in mid-week, and which, when they do cause havoc with productivity: Spiritual Baptists Shouter holiday (March 30th)
Indian Arrival Day (May 30th)
Labour Day (June 7th)
Emancipation Day (August 1st)
Republic Day (September 24th)
Now, apart from the obvious historical reason for each of these holidays as holidays in their own right, wouldn't it make more sense if we moved the holidays to an appropriate Monday in their respective months? For example, we could have the Shouter Baptist holiday on the last Monday in March. Indian Arrival Day could be on the last Monday in May. Emancipation Day could be celebrated on the first Monday in August ... and so on.

The advantages to the country would be twofold: first of all because these holidays would no longer fall in mid-week there would be increased productivity. The reality is that when any of these holidays fall on say a Tuesday or a Thursday many persons take the opportunity to have a four day weekend. Next, because we would be increasing the number of long weekends a lot of people would be encouraged to travel inside the country ... Tobago, for example, would benefit from the number of Trinis who would want to go over to the sister isle. I don't have the figures, but I will bet dollars to doughnuts that every time there is a long weekend that travel to Tobago goes up!

As an adult, how often has your birthday fallen during the week and you have decided to celebrate it on the Friday or Saturday night? Get the point? We need to be mature about our holidays. There are good reasons for each and every one of them and we should be proud of them. Amongst other things, each one serves in a meaningful way to remind us of our history ... and yes, it is important to remember who we are and where we came from. But rationalisng the actual days of celebration would not ... could not change that!

I did mention that I had a question mark over the Corpus Christi holiday. The reasons for this are basically rooted in history. When General Abercrombie sailed into Port of Spain harbour and took over Trinidad from the Spanish, he did so because England was then at war with France ... it was the time of the Napoleonic wars ... and Spain was at the time under Napoleon's thumb, which meant that England was technically at war with Spain. During the period of the Napoleonic wars (which finally ended with Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1814) there were many peace treaties signed (and subsequently broken) between England and France. One of these treaties was signed in the French town of Amiens in or about 1804. By the Peace Treaty of Amiens, England handed back every thing that she had taken from France except Ceylon (which is today the island of Sri Lanka) and Trinidad.

It is not difficult to understand why the English wanted to hang on to Ceylon/Sri Lanka. The island lies just South of India which at that time was arguably the most important colony of the British Empire. English merchant ships (as well as warships) would have to sail right past the island to get back to England. But why the English wanted to hang on to Trinidad has become obscured in the dust of history.

What had happened was that a fairly large number of the former French aristocracy in fleeing the French Revolution had ended up in Trinidad. When Abercrombie came in to Port of Spain they were overjoyed, but when England started talking peace with Napoleon they begged "whatever you do, please do not hand us back to that dreadful man". (You have to remember that they hated Napoleon. He had come to power as a result of the Revolution that had forced them to flee France.) The French at the time couldn't care less about Trinidad. When it became obvious that Trinidad was going to stay English, the French planters realised that they had another problem: the English were (gasp!) Protestant! They might be forced to give up their Catholic religion. So they had inserted into the Treaty of Amiens that the Roman Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi would be a holiday in the colony from that day on.

So that is why in Trinidad & Tobago, a country in which more than 50% of its population is not Christian, this rather obscure Roman Catholic Feast Day is celebrated down to today. Incidentally, I believe that we are the only country in the world that celebrates Corpus Christi as a public holiday! The only non Trinis that I have met who are Catholic who have ever heard of this Feast Day are Roman Catholic priests! So, the question is (or ought to be) is this particular Feast Day so important that we should continue to celebrate it as a public holiday? And, for the record, the question is asked genuinely and without prejudice, but is asked seriously. We ought to be able to discuss these sorts of matters without the unfortunate emotions that so often accompany them and obscure rational and logical thought.

1 comment:

  1. One of the issues with the public holidays here is that hey don't match very readily with other countries. Not necessarily a problem but if you're running an international organisation or a diplomatic mission it's quite hard to explain why the country is at a standstill thanks to Shouter Baptist Liberation day. What is that?!? They may well ask