Let's make Eid a bank holiday

It's not just the chance for a day with my feet up that's got me convinced


As Muslims all over Britain celebrate the end of Ramadan, Conservative MP Bob Blackman has championed an e-petition – now with more than 120,000 signatures – to make Eid and Diwali public holidays. I plan to add my own name to that list. I may be neither Muslim, Hindu, Jain or Sikh, but I’m heavily pro a national day off. Grafting is important, but so is one’s sanity.

These would be public holidays with, for me at least, no particular tasks, traditions or duties to fulfil. Christmas? Not a holiday. In fact, it’s an anti-holiday. But remember those glorious, bonus bank holidays bestowed upon us as a result of Will and Kate’s nuptials? Even if one wouldn’t shed a tear were the royal duo to meet the same fate as Nikolai and Elena Ceausescu, the right to sit very still in one’s own home for 24 hours, perhaps venturing into the garden to barbecue a lamb chop, was marvellously welcome. Regardless of how sloth-like we’re often told we are as a nation, the majority of us work an indecent amount. Enforced leisure-time is vital for the national psyche.

Obviously, the point of this e-petition isn’t to give agnostics the chance to finish their Mad Men boxset, it is to honour the fact that for Muslims and Hindus these are the most important days in their faiths, plus, as Blackman suggests, a national holiday would demonstrate that Britain “embraces” the faiths. I’ll go further and suggest that to embrace faiths we need to attempt to understand some entry-level facts about them. Social cohesion can only come through education and exposure to one another’s “special things”. More has been done for community harmony by encouraging tiny kids of all faiths to make Diwali lanterns for their mothers, or by Asda stocking shelves of Cadbury’s Heroes under a sign screaming “Eid Mubarak!”, than a hundred complex multicultural initiatives.

It’s useful for all of us living together in Britain to realise that – give or take the odd custom, godly tale or forbidden food product– we all do the same sort of things on our special holidays. We like food, fireworks, sparkly things, smart clothes, meeting up with family, dancing, laughing, gossiping and taking stock of the year before. More official holidays within Britain for other faiths could help us remember that there’s more keeping us together than the petty things which drive us apart.

Ramadan and its climax, Eid, were mysterious terms to me until I lived close to Brits who observed it – starving stoically between 5am and 9pm for 29 days – and the penny dropped that it’s essentially turbo-Lent. Not Lent in a flimsy “Ooh I might give up Lion Bars for Baby Jesus” manner. No, advanced level, Andy McNab-style Lent. Remove all the food, all the water, all the sex, and let’s have a nice long think about where you are in life, what you actually need and who you can help, with a party at the end which feels a lot to the agnostic onlooker like Christmas Day. Anyone who has the steely determination for Ramadan has my respect. Meanwhile, I know very little about Hinduism, but if they began closing the banks and throwing more street parties for Diwali, I could, by default, find out.

Best of all, these two new national holidays will be a great test of character amongst the upholders of other faiths, or simply furious atheists. Because who can get worked up about family-orientated holiday time? I am still amused thinking of the BNP members last year who untuned their TV sets from Channel 4 over the 5am broadcast of a call to prayer, which they’d never have caught anyway. It would be fun to see which valiant British bulldogs refused a day off work because of their “principles”. Possibly the same people who won’t eat Kingsmill bread as it’s halal (while eating a chicken tikka masala every Friday evening) and moan incessantly about the liberties foreigners take in our country while holidaying in every godforsaken resort we have ruined in the last 50 years. The average Brit can be an awful, grabbing, liberty-taking berk abroad. If we asked for a Margaret Thatcher day in Spain or Greece the government might sling it to us in the hope that we’d all stay firmly indoors and cease, for 24 hours, projectile vomiting Sambuca and spreading chlamydia.

Sadly, Business Minister Jenny Willott was not persuaded by Bob Blackman’s case emphasising her concerns about cost. “I know that will disappoint some people,” she said. It is quite disappointing. We’re hearing so much about religious war right now, it would be nice – for one day a year – to give peace a chance.

I feel slightly sorry for potential Oxford Masters student and “posh brat” Emily-Rose Eastop, who is currently riding a riptide of spite following an attempt to crowdfund her degree.

Emily wants to study an MSC in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology. She explains what that is in her video. I’d lost the entire gist after the first four words, but it sounded head-bangingly complicated. We moan about women avoiding the world of science. Here’s one who isn’t. We moan about British youths not arming themselves with job skills to compete at a world level. Emily is trying.

Pretty and posh? Best stay offline

The mistake Emily made during the video was to be pretty, ambitious and a tiny bit posh, which are all very bad things to be on the internet – individually and in combination. Especially if there is an open comment box under your video, news article or think-piece.

Many years ago, in the 1990s, a female friend of mine did exactly the same thing as Emily when offered a Masters at Oxford which she had no way of affording. She bought some expensive note paper, a good pen and wrote politely but confidently to a number of affluent sorts and asked them for cash. They were as impressed by her chutzpah as I was: she got the cash. Weirdly, pre-internet, a woman doing this seemed resourceful, steely, beautifully brassy.

Thank God we’ve got comment-box warriors in 2014 to keep us uppity females in our place.

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