The Front Page: Is it time to cancel Easter in New Zealand?
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the Easter Trade Laws. Video / Mark Mitchell
Changes in New Zealand’s population raise questions about whether the country should shut down each April in recognition of a public holiday associated with one of the country’s many religions.
In the 2018 census, 2.2 million people said they had no religion at all. This compares to the 1.3 million people affiliated with one of five Christian denominations.
The statistics go even further, showing that there are now 157 religious affiliations across the country.
This data was presented to Newstalk ZB’s Sunday at Six Host and Media Chaplaincy Senior Chaplain Reverend Frank Ritchie on today’s episode of The Front Page podcast, in a bid to tackle the complex role that religion continues to play out in the changing cultural context of New Zealand.
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Ritchie isn’t surprised by people’s continued estrangement from organized religion.
“In my 45 years of life, I’ve seen New Zealand change significantly as a nation, and that number of people connected to organized religion keeps dropping – and personally, I don’t think it’s a negative thing,” Ritchie said.
While the influx of people from countries with different worldviews would have contributed to this decline, Ritchie says there has also been a significant shift among New Zealanders.
“I think there’s a growing honesty in New Zealand. Back then a lot of people would have been baptized or baptized Anglicans, Catholics or Presbyterians and then growing up they would have recognized themselves as Christians, whether they were whether they went to church or not.
“I think the need to culturally say you’re a Christian when you’re not necessarily something you consider true is diminishing. What I think we’re seeing over time is that New Zealanders become more honest.”
When asked if he thought it was still appropriate for the nation to have this mandatory holiday when there was such a proliferation of religious affiliations across the country, Ritchie said he understood. why some might ask this question.
“People who have no kind of faith might find it confusing that a nation would elevate the celebration of the holy days of one religion above another religion than that which has predominated in the history of New Zeeland, the idea is not at all strange.
“For example, I spent time with Muslim friends in Israel and Palestine and found a lot of commonalities. There is an understanding that we have about each other because we have a common religious way of see the world that says my atheist friends don’t even here in New Zealand I’ve sat down with a number of people of other faiths and they have no problem with us celebrating Easter and Christmas .”
This conversation is not set in stone, however. And there may be a case for having a fixed number of holidays in a year, which people of different religious affiliations can take at a time that better suits their traditions.
“I hope that in our changing and changing worldview in New Zealand, anyone alongside their employer can take days off that are important to them for life expression,” says Richie.
“But I’m reluctant, even for people with no faith, to take Easter and Christmas off the table because I like the idea that we have mandated days when the country only takes a few days off. .”
This last point is a cause of great consternation among business owners who have long called for an end to the Easter trade restrictions.
Ritchie, however, argues that there is a strong non-religious argument for keeping these trade bans in place.
“I know for businesses right now it’s going to be a bit difficult because of what we’ve been through with the pandemic, but we’re going to get through to the other side,” he says.
“I struggle with a worldview that sees us primarily as consumers and workers and has no days that are mandated to take time off.
“I know people who have been to other countries for example, where let’s say Ramadan is celebrated. that slowing down and then not being able to buy or having to work on certain days is really healthy.
“I think having days where we do this together as a nation is really healthy.”
Ironically, despite the backlash against the holiday aspect of Easter, businesses have also used the holiday for commercial purposes, with companies promoting chocolates, pastries and other food products each year.
It’s a question Ritchie particularly opposes, but not just because of his religious background.
“This year, I have seen many variations of the traditional hot cross buns. And as a fan of a good traditional bun, warmed in the oven followed by a good layer of butter, I would like to see this kind of commercialism take a back seat.
Not everyone will agree with Ritchie’s wildly controversial views on hot buns, but it’s ultimately part of living in an increasingly diverse country.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.
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