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Why not Compassion Day instead of Easter Monday?

By Eric Claus - posted Thursday, 24 March 2005

The Australian Census Bureau says that 33 per cent of Australians are non-Christians. Currently there are three religious public holidays on the calendar (Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Monday) and they are all Christian holidays.

Why should the government support one religion over all the others with every religious public holiday? Isn’t the government in effect saying to non-Christians, “You really aren’t part of mainstream society. Christian holidays are the really important ones.”

So which day could we swap? I’m pretty sure that even most Christians would agree that Easter Monday is the least significant of the three. The birth and death of Christ are big events but the day after He ascended into heaven? It is really just a bonus holiday to further emphasise the importance of Easter to Christians.


The beauty of changing the name of Easter Monday is that there would be little physical impact. There would still be a public holiday on the day after Easter Sunday. The new holiday would just have a name that reflected the fact that Australia has many different religions, and also many people who are not religious. Christians can still celebrate Easter Monday in the same way they have always done. Anyone else with religious or non-religious faith can worship or celebrate in their own way. The change would simply remove the burden of thinking this holiday is really just for Christians.

By celebrating the holiday as Easter only, non-Christians are excluded from the primary meaning of the holiday. If Jesus isn’t your saviour it doesn’t make sense to celebrate his ascension into heaven. That means that the holiday’s significance is wasted on at least a third of us. Surely we can do better than that, especially when we’ve just had an important Christian public holiday the previous Friday.

So what name to give our new public holiday? I vote for Compassion Day but I am open to all suggestions.

Muslims - “Allah is merciful and compassionate”; Jews and Christians - “Love thy neighbour as thyself”; Hindus - compassion (daya) and liberality (dan) are the two principles of Hindu dharma or righteous conduct; and Buddhists - “Compassion and love ... are fundamental to the continued survival of our species” (The Dalai Lama). All have compassion for their fellow man as a central tenet of their beliefs. I’m sure other faiths and cultures have similar beliefs about compassion. Calling Easter Monday, Compassion Day, would then in many ways make it a religious holiday for many religions. Wouldn’t that be convenient?

We might even have multi religious parties and celebrations on Compassion Day: Jews, agnostics, Buddhists, Christians, atheists and anybody else who felt compassionate, all dancing around together, eating, drinking and feeling compassionate about their fellow man. What a hoot! It might be a special day to visit hospitals or give donations to charities that help people who have had some bad luck, or like the people in Sudan, or somebody with cancer.

Christians often say that the Christian holidays have lost their meaning. This would be a chance to give Easter Monday a very specific meaning. If Easter Monday was called Compassion Day there would be a clear message to Christians and all Australians that the meaning of Easter Monday was compassion for our fellow man.


It could also be a positive step towards reconciliation with Aboriginal people, who have not taken to Christianity. The government would be saying to Aboriginal people that the government’s spiritual focus is broadly based. It’s not all about a spiritual faith brought to Australia by Europeans. It is about compassion and caring about all types of people.

Here in Australia we have beautiful weather, a stable democracy, a high standard of living and wonderful freedoms. It makes sense that once in a while we think about how lucky we are and whether there is anything we can do for our fellow man. Holidays are a great time to sit and reflect on the important things in our lives. No work, time to recharge the batteries, time to think big thoughts. Maybe if Easter Monday was called Compassion Day more of us might reflect on what it means to be compassionate, or think about whether we have been as compassionate as we could have been. I don’t think a few minutes thinking about compassion for others, would do me any harm.

There is certainly no urgency. It is likely that atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and all other Non-Christians enjoy the “bejeezus” out of Easter Monday, without worrying too much about what the Christians are doing. It’s also true that there is plenty of compassion in Australia from people of all religions (and from agnostics and atheists) without a Compassion Day. Even if it isn’t urgent though, it is still probably a good thing to do.

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About the Author

Eric Claus has worked in civil and environmental engineering for over 20 years.

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