– Demand grows every day; do we need it or will weekend celebrations suffice?
Public Holiday on Diwali, Vaisakhi, Eid, Pongal, Chinese New Year, Vesak Day, Rosh Hashanah, etc in Australia. Yes, it might sound unrealistic now, but soon there will be a day it will be a reality. Any cultural, religious, or traditional festivals should be declared as ‘Optional Public Holidays’ so that people can celebrate these significant days with their families when they are meant to be celebrated on the actual days and not on weekends as replacements. In the absence of an earmarked day for cultural festivals, the celebration of these festivals is scattered across weekends spanning over weeks, and unfortunately this distorts the very essence of the festival. Any festival day of Cultural, Religious & Traditional significance of a community should be allowed to be substituted with another Public Holiday, which they might not want to take a day off or celebrate.
Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world today, almost one in four Australian residents were born outside of Australia. It is home to many different cultures, and we pride in our multiculturalism and stand tall in celebrating it better than the rest of the world. Many communities have their significant days which has been followed, celebrated for many hundreds of years. No community should forget its roots or identity, many thousands of years our ancestors protected and passed on these treasures to us, not for us to lose it now in our generation. We should make every way possible to celebrate it better and pass it to our next and make sure this continues. After all, it is just not a festival but our identity.
Diwali, Vaisakhi, Eid, etc., if declared as optional national public holidays would enable people to celebrate the festival with their families by availing a day off without being marked as absent so that the multicultural families can celebrate these festivals with the same fervour and pass on the cultural and traditional heritage to our children. Many organisations are already implementing this, to name a few businesses like NAB, Telstra, PepsiCo Australia are giving its employees “Cultural Holidays” which could enable workers to take leave on days such as Diwali or Chinese New Year or Eid instead of a public holiday so that the festivals do not affect the employee’s annual leave. Some companies don’t substitute these cultural holidays with any public holidays allowing their employees to enjoy both. Multicultural celebrations are growing in popularity, alongside the traditional Australian public holidays such as Melbourne Cup Day and the Queen’s Birthday. Festivals like Diwali or Eid can bring Melbourne or Sydney to a halt and one look in the empty buses and trains these days will give the picture clearly.
National Employment Standards under Employees pay, leave and entitlements state that; Religious and cultural holidays are days that people celebrate for religious and cultural reasons. If you don’t allow your employees to celebrate religious or cultural holidays, it can be discrimination. Make sure you allow your employees flexibility to celebrate these days or celebrate them together through work events. (Source: https://www.business.gov.au/people/pay-and-conditions/employees-pay-leave-and-entitlements). Calendar of cultural and religious dates https://www.harmony.gov.au/events/calendar/
The Aboriginal people of Australia have a rich, living culture stretching more than 50,000 years, there were over 500 different clan groups or ‘nations’ around the continent, many with distinctive cultures, beliefs and languages. We don’t educate our children enough of the traditional owners of the land, we don’t have a public holiday for any of their festivals, we lost a beautiful heritage and the sad part is we didn’t even make an attempt. Survival of any peoples, cultures and traditions depends upon the present carrying it from the past and passing it on to the future generations, if we sideline or ignore them now we will have no one to blame for losing the great cultures of our ancestors.
Harmony in a community is created by allowing cultural nuances to be framed through festivity and celebrations. Any misconceptions and misunderstandings that come with a culture, race or religion can be only broken down through conversation, connection and celebration be it through sport or festivals. Aren’t public holidays about, giving you a break to rejoice and reconnect with your family, friends and community? Shifting some of our existing public holidays to celebrate cultural diversity and social cohesion will be a starting point in the direction of breaking down stigmas about other communities’ culture, traditions, practices and creating greater awareness.
Australia is a proud, multicultural society where all cultures and ethnicities enjoy equal respect and freedom, it’s about time that people from multicultural communities are enabled to celebrate their most important festivals with their families and friends so that the cultural legacy is passed on to their next generations. I believe it is the greatness of democracy where one can decide their own choice of Public Holiday at least once a year and Governments should legislate it.
BY Karthik Arasu
(President of “Australia India Sports Council)