The Western or Gregorian calendar used in America is a staple household necessity. It outlines major events and holidays, indicating time to be given off for work, school and vacations accordingly.
However, according to author Joshua Cole, the holidays encompassed by the Gregorian calendar adhere to the sayings of its founder, Pope Gregory XIII, in Europe nearly 440 years ago. It follows a system invented by a Christian, for the Christians don’t look at the needs of other faiths.
Resultantly, the Gregorian calendar is practically synonymous with the “Christian” calendar.
Although we don’t call them “Christmas Break” or “Easter Break,” their purposes are evident. There is nothing wrong with giving time off for the holidays. In fact, that’s the whole problem. The Christian-based holiday calendar is inconsiderate to people of other faiths.
For example, as a Muslim, I observe two major holidays, Eid-al-Adha and Eid-al-Fitr, based on the lunar calendar. This means the holidays are observed roughly 9-11 days earlier every year.
Eid-al-Fitr celebrates the end of the holy month of Ramadan in which Muslims are required to fast (refrain from food and drink) from sunrise to sunset for a month. This month is supposed to be devoted to worship as much as possible.
For the last few years, I’ve attended classes and taken my finals while fasting. It’s not really an issue to take an exam while fasting, but I don’t have time to pray extra prayers and read the Quran. I have several friends who have had to skip fasting because they can’t think while hungry. This is a very big deal because fasting is one of the five pillars of faith in Islam.
Another pillar of faith that is often interfered with is the Hajj pilgrimage. Hajj is mandatory for all those who can afford to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina during the ten days prior to Eid-al-Adha.
My father had to take two weeks off from work, without pay, for Hajj. However, every year he gets two weeks off in the wintertime for Christmas. Christmas is both a holiday we do not observe, and it’s only a day long holiday.
Holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family. Religious holidays like Eid require attentiveness.
For those that believe in an afterlife, the primary goal in this life is to secure the best afterlife, a process that requires some sacrifice in this life.
In addition, offering time off for other holidays opens the door for learning. I am often asked around winter time if I celebrate any of the holidays. This happens to the extent that people assume that Kwanzaa is a “Muslim Christmas.” Introducing non-attendance days for other holidays would help people learn about other religions and potentially diffuse the stigma surrounding them.
It’s not just Muslims who have issues with the Christian-based calendar.
Sophomore Biology major Holly Jones explained, “Hanukkah is not even an important holiday for Jews. The only reason people know about it is because it’s considered to be the ‘Jewish Christmas.’ Most of the time Hanukkah is done before school break even starts, so we get two weeks off for essentially nothing.”
The Jewish day of atonement Yom Kippur involves a 25 hour or longer fast. There are 39 conditions that must be met and many are broken if someone attends their average workday.
People of Hindu faiths like sophomore biology major Charmi Patel said, “Instead of attending religious festivals and celebrations, the past few years I have been in labs that are unable to be rescheduled. My college offers a ‘Diwali celebration’ hosted by a student-led club, but instead of worshipping and celebrating the holy day, we just eat cheese and crackers and light a sad sparkler.”
In India, time is given off for both Muslim and Hindu holidays. This system works quite well because both religions are acknowledged and the people are educated about each other’s customs. This also builds a sense of respect, and humanizes the other religion, making it harder to be prejudiced and racist.
According to the University’s undergraduate student handbook, “absences due to illness, religious holidays … are usually considered to be acceptable reasons for absences, but notification of such absences and arrangements to make up missed work should be made with the instructor by the student.”
Although these absences due to the celebration of a religious holiday are “usually considered” as acceptable reasons to be absent, it is unclear whether the professors will honor the holidays on an individual basis.
All in all, I understand why it’s important to give non-attendance days for Christian holidays, but it doesn’t acknowledge those of other faiths.
It’s unfair that I couldn’t attend my own family’s Eid party because I had a psychology class I couldn’t miss. It’s hurtful that my Jewish friend couldn’t take an exam because it fell on a religious day. It’s upsetting that instead of participating in the festival of lights, my friend was in a lab mixing chemicals.
I hope one day we can all celebrate our holidays without concern of what we might have to make up tomorrow.