Should Easter Be A Long Weekend In The US?

At the stroke of midnight, fireworks lit up the night sky on the Greek island of Naxos. In a square outside a centuries old church, at least half the island’s population gathered to celebrate the occasion. Children ran around and threw firecrackers, senior citizens occupied all the choice benches and everyone was dressed to the nines and holding lit candles. An hour or so after midnight, everyone filed out of the square and retreated to their homes for a huge feast that breaks the Lenten fast. This is how Orthodox Easter is celebrated in towns and villages all over Greece.

If you’ve never spent Easter Sunday in a predominantly Christian country like Greece, Italy or many others in Europe and Latin America where it’s the biggest holiday of the year, you’re missing out on the travel experience of a lifetime. Here in the U.S., Easter isn’t even a public holiday worthy of a long weekend. In many parts of the country, you can drive around and shop and not even realize that it’s an important Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I’ve spent Easter in a variety of countries where everything completely shuts down for a few days. As a traveler, that can be disruptive and annoying. But I will never forget how joyous an occasion Easter was in Naxos. Nor will I forget an Easter Sunday I spent in Modica, in southeastern Sicily several years ago (see top photo). The entire town turns out onto the streets, dressed to kill, for a colorful procession with marching bands and then after Mass, everyone repairs to a house or restaurant for a meal fit for a king. Everyone you meet wishes you a buona Pasqua and the good vibes are contagious, even if you aren’t religious.

According to the most recent census data, about 76 percent of adults in the U.S. self identify as Christians (3.8 percent practice other religions, 15 percent don’t practice any religion, and 5 percent refused to answer the question). The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state yet Christmas is a government holiday while Easter is not. Peter Steinfels, writing in The New York Times in 1998 wrote that America was “too religious and too Christian to ignore Easter, but also too pluralist and too secular to absorb it comfortably as a national holiday.”

We are indeed a diverse country, which presents interesting opportunities for visitors to our shores, but it’s also very special to visit a largely homogenous country during a major holiday because it’s fascinating to see an entire place come to a standstill as a community celebrates out on the streets together.

Easter is a religious holiday and we’re a largely secular country, so there are good reasons why it isn’t a public holiday. But I think making Easter a long weekend would be good for the travel industry and good for the country. We take an average of 13 days off per year, compared to 38 in France, 34 in Brazil, 32 in Sweden, 27 in Germany and 19 in Australia, for example.

Surely even those who don’t celebrate Easter wouldn’t mind a long weekend, would they? Or would the declaration of Easter as a national holiday be offensive to non-Christians who are already uncomfortable with Christmas being a public holiday? Let us know how you feel about this in the comments and in the poll.


[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Klearchos Kapoutsis and jpereira_net on Flickr]