“Oh, we can’t meet on Friday because it is a public holiday,” I commented to my colleague. She looked at me in puzzlement. “Which Friday are you talking about,” she replied. “This coming Friday, its Easter and therefore must be a holiday,” I said. “Ah, well, no it isn’t actually a holiday, although maybe it should be,” was her response.
Good Friday (or Big Friday) isn’t a holiday in Croatia, I keep forgetting that. In Croatia, which is a deeply religious country, one of surely the most important days in the Catholic calendar isn’t a public holiday. Whereas in Great Britain, which to be fair is nowhere near as religious, both Friday, or Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays for the Easter period. Seems rather strange to me. If you just think about the literal meaning of “holiday” (at least in English) it comes from the longer phrase “holy day.” That is why Sunday is of course a holiday. So why is one of the most important holy days in Croatia not a holy day…sorry holiday.
Maybe it would have more sympathy if the church took to the streets to protest about this Good Friday actually being a public holiday rather than complaining about a certain Turkish convention. I am often asked by foreigners why there are so many public holidays in Croatia. Do you know how many there are in total? The answer is in fact 13. And that includes Christmas and New Year’s Day, so 11 other ones. Do you know how many there are every year in Germany? 13. And in France? 11. And in the UK? 8…only 8.
However, these figures can be slightly misleading. Why? Because in Croatia, as in Italy, the day that a public holiday falls on is not transferable. Meaning that if, for example, Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day falls on a weekend, as it does this year, that holiday isn’t transferred to the day before or the day after. This is not the case in the UK. If a public holiday lands on the weekend it is then transferred to either the Monday or the Friday. So even though the UK only has eight public holidays a year, one of the lowest in the world, it actually really has eight holidays. Whereas Croatia this year in fact only has 11 as opposed to 13. OK, I know it is still more than the UK (and even if there is no Good Friday) but it at least draws the numbers much closer.
And it is still nowhere near the country with the most public holidays, not even close. The absolute winner is Cambodia, with an amazing 28 public holidays every year. Just think about that, that’s over two public holidays every bloody month, or in other words you work for 11 months and have a month off. Before you all pack your suitcases and buy single tickets to Phnom Penh the vast majority are connected to Buddhism, so you’re probably going to have to convert religions. Cambodia is followed by Sri Lanka with 25 days off. But again many of these are around Hinduism. If you are looking closer to home you might want to try Scandinavia. Finland is the leader in Europe with a generous 15 free days. And they are closely followed by Sweden with 13.
So in the grand scheme of things Croatia isn’t the laziest country in the world, or even in Europe, if you just take the amount of public holidays into account. The one thing that the EU and probably most of the rest of the world won’t understand (apart from Cambodia!) is this Croatian tradition of connecting days. Quite quickly the 13 days turns into Cambodian style numbers.
“It’s a holiday on Thursday so we’ll have a half day on Wednesday to prepare and there doesn’t seem much point in coming in on Friday.” How many times have you heard that sentence? Probably more if you work for a state institution. I even heard this once, “The absolute best day for a public holiday is Thursday, guaranteed long weekend.” In fact, this particular person had made almost a scientific survey out of the best days for holidays to fall on and how it could be possible to connect them to artificially create a long weekend. He had probably spent at least a week’s work just figuring out the pros and cons of holiday timings. If only he had been so effective and efficient with his actual government job. And yet, and I repeat, with all these holidays, real or imagined, still one of the leading holy days isn’t actually a free day. Strange but true.