Published in "Off the Wall" Fiji Times December 22, 2010
A friend of mine who is a member of the same congregation that I pastor to as an associate minister came up to me at the end of service on Sunday to share his sadness that he would not be able to attend worship on 27Christmas Day (Saturday 25th December, 2010) because his employer had informed all the staff that Saturday was another normal work day and that everyone who worked on Saturday was to be at work or have their pays for the public holidays of Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th deducted.
My friend is not alone. There are many others who are affect that due to the Christmas Day public holiday being held on Monday, some employers are taking advantage to insist that workers, including those who are Christian, work on Saturday December 25 which is the actual date for Christmas Day, the day which Christians around the world gather together in worship to celebrate the birth of their Lord Jesus Christ.
This move comes despite the fact that the Christian community has commemorated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25th for 17 centuries. There are three significant Holy Days in the Christian Calendar for all Christians regardless of denomination, these are Christmas which celebrates the birth of Christ, Good Friday which commemorates His crucifixion and death for the sins of the world, and Easter Sunday which celebrates His glorious resurrection signifying His victory of sin and death.
This is not the first time that Christmas Day (Dec 25th) has fallen on a Saturday. In the last twenty years alone, Christmas has occurred on Saturday in 1993, 1999, 2004. However this is the first time this has been an issue between retailers, employers and those of the Christian community.
I recently came across a book of my mother’s which was given to her by my eldest sister. The story of Moses, a significant person in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faith, is told from the perspective of Miriam, his sister and Tzipporah, his wife. In the Holy Bible, in the book of Exodus, we are told of the requests made by Moses to Pharaoh Amun-Ra for the Israelites to be allowed to go into the wilderness to worship their God, Yahveh. The Pharaoh, as we know from Sunday-School, forbids them to do so, or allows them and then rescinds permission. A series of plagues befall the Egyptians until the Pharaoh relents.
Rather than call for plagues on those employers who were demanding that their employees work on Christmas day or face penalties (rather like the Pharaoh who increase the labour demands on the Israelites) in the form of boycotts or as one person suggested on Facebook, “naming and shaming” the companies involved, the Indian Division of the Methodist Church, through its Divisional Superintendent, Rev. William Lucas put out a press release raising its concern on this issue. Others joined in raising the voice of the voiceless such as the Pacific Conference of Churches and even Allen Lockington who posted the issue on a Facebook page apparently belonging to the Prime Minister.
As the news media embraced their role of the Fourth Estate questions were posed and by the end of the day the response from government was forthcoming. I thank the Prime Minister’s office for clarifying this issue. According to the Ministry of Information, “Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Colonel Pio Tikoduadua, in clarifying the matter, has reminded all employers that this Saturday is not a working day. Colonel Tikoduadua further stated that employees must not face any discrimination if they don’t work on Saturday. He further added that Christmas is a time for family and a day for worship.”
The fact that some Christians were being compelled by their employers to have to chose their job over the observance of their faith smacked of discrimination. However below the surface of the issue, it seems that even in Fiji, secularism is attempting to erode our spirituality. Yet despite the dying grasp of materialism on spirituality and mutually empowering relationships, it is my belief that this spirituality, our faith, our ability to see each other as fellow human beings, brothers and sisters and children of a creator God, and our understanding that each one of is equal in our self-worth, dignity and capacity to love and be loved, will not only be the catalyst for peace and harmony in our mother-land of Viti kei Rotuma, but will also be the source of liberation for the world as we know it.
I send you light, love and peace this Christmas. May each one of us receive the gifts of simplicity, serenity and spontaneity. May the Christ-light be lit within you and may it shine and illuminate the lives of those around us.
If you a looking for somewhere to worship, and you are not being forced to work, you are welcome to join in the celebrations of the birth of the Christ at Dudley Methodist Church on the corner of Amy Street and Toorak Road at 9am on Saturday, 25th December.
* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of the Methodist Indian Division’s Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org