On Wednesday, 28 October there was another public holiday, this time to mark the anniversary of Greece’s Ochi Day, the day when the country rejected Mussolini’s ultimatum that led to the Italy-Greece war. It was the second public holiday of the month. On October 1, we celebrated Cyprus’ Independence Day.
These were two of four national holidays we celebrate in Cyprus. The others are March 25, the start of the Greek revolution against Ottoman rule and April 1, the start of the Eoka struggle. Perhaps it is normal for a young state to have so many national holidays, especially as these, with the exception of October 1, were established soon after independence.
Apart from these, there is Labour Day and Boxing Day as well as seven religious days that are public holidays – Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas Day, Epiphany Day, Green Monday, Kataklysmos and the Assumption on August 15. Thirteen public holidays are a bit on the excessive side bearing in mind that work conditions have changed significantly for the better since many of these were introduced.
Back in the sixties and the seventies, people worked a six-day week and annual holiday entitlement was much lower than it is today, when the minimum is four weeks and rises to six with years of service, so it was understandable to have so many public holidays. For schools which have two weeks off at Easter and Christmas and some three months in the summer the number of holidays is scandalous because they include several saints days, plus one for the Archbishop’s name day. The five-day week was introduced at public schools some 40 years ago.
We know it would be difficult for the government to scrap public holidays, as this would be a universally unpopular decision that will be opposed by the political parties and unions but the system must be rationalised and brought in line with the times. For example, we can start by abolishing October 28 and March 25 that are another state’s national holidays. These days can be honoured by Greek Cypriots, wanting to underline their Greek heritage but should not be public holidays. Two national holidays are enough.
It would be unrealistic to expect the religious holidays to be scrapped as these are an integral part of our customs and traditions that go back many years, but cutting the two above-mentioned national holidays would be a start. As for the schools, all saints-day holidays should be abolished with the new school year. Teachers work only half the days of the year without being given additional religious holidays off work.