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Few of us worked yesterday. But isn't that wrong? Why is Good Friday a statutory holiday?

Most of Canada's holidays are anachronistic. Victoria Day commemorates an all-but-forgotten British imperial past. On Labour Day, we pay tribute to the working class, but now that most of the workers have mutual funds (much to everyone's regret, at the moment), we should be giving Entrepreneurs Day equal time.

Since no one can remember the original purpose of the holiday on the first Monday in August, different provinces have taken to giving it different nominal significance. Everyone knows it's really just an excuse to enjoy the good weather.

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But most of our holidays are Christian. We give thanks to God in October for our bountiful harvest; we celebrate the arrival of the Christ child in December; and we eternally renew the sorrow of the Crucifixion and the miracle of the Resurrection at winter's end.

At least practising Christians do. For everyone else -- and there is more of everyone else with each passing year -- these are empty days.

It would surely be less offensive simply to designate each of the solstices and equinoxes as statutory holidays, with everyone given both Friday and Monday off. (In some ways, we'd actually be returning to the pagan roots of many Christian holidays.)

We'd keep Canada Day. There is no such thing as too many long weekends in the summer.

Such reforms will never happen, of course. There could be no more perfect way for a political party to guarantee its defeat at the next election than to take God out of the calendar. The Ontario government won't even end public funding for Catholic schools, though they're an egregious example of religious discrimination. Christians are not a constituency to be messed with.

But there are other reasons, more deeply embedded (will it be possible to rescue that word?) in our collective political psyche for retaining Christian holidays, for beginning daily sessions of federal and provincial parliaments with Christian prayer, for keeping God in the national anthem.

They remind us that Canada is blessed to be a liberal democracy, and that liberal democracy is the product of Christian civilization, and specifically of Protestantism.

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Why is that? Why didn't Islam achieve the separation of church and state necessary for democracy to evolve? Why did Buddhist or Hindu or Confucian or Shintoist Asia not generate responsible, constitutional government even once?

The reasons are many, conflicting, and disputed. But Christianity was a part of it. The root religion of Judaism stressed the importance of the individual, who alone could save himself from darkness by embracing God. Judaic tradition, infused by Greek philosophy, imbued Christianity with a tradition of rationalism, skepticism and inquiry. The resistance of northern Europeans to dictatorial Rome brought about Protestantism, with its emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of each individual in his relations with God. If with God, then why not with the state? And the citizen was born.

(And scientific inquiry, and free trade, and the Industrial Revolution. The price was centuries of drab and uncomfortable clothing. Protestants are the worst-dressed people on Earth.)

Democracy, it turns out, is an exportable product. It has taken root in Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist societies, although the further it gets from Protestantism, the more fragile it becomes. Southern Europe came late to democracy, Latin America even later; in Asia and Africa, democracy is still the exception more than the rule.

Which is why even a nation as culturally diverse as Canada does well to remember that our democracy is rooted in the Christian tradition, that our political freedoms and social tolerance flow from that tradition, that it is not an oxymoron to describe Canada as a secular Christian nation.

So all Canadians can, and should, hunt for Easter eggs and give Christmas presents and stuff themselves with turkey and go trick-or-treating. Our forefathers' belief in a Protestant God made our land glorious and free. You don't have to embrace that version of God to appreciate the inestimable gifts that have flowed from belief in Him.

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Now we need only explain why government workers get Easter Monday off while the rest of us have to sweat out the day.

jibbitson@globeandmail.ca

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