Saeima to make twelfth pass on Orthodox Christmas bill

The Harmony party bill to make Russian Orthodox Christmas a public holiday in light of the large minority communities that observe the January 7 date was passed on to parliamentary committees in Saeima Thursday, prompting media discussion of the issue as it has now for twelve years and running.

The MPs voted only 19 votes against (mostly from the National Alliance faction) and 13 abstentions, with 50 voting for the proposal to enter the parliamentary agenda in committee review.

On January 7 two sizable communities of Russian Orthodox and Old Believer faiths mark their Christmas, as they have done since the Soviets occupied independent Latvia in 1941 and brought them under the Patriarchate of Moscow.

While MP Valerijs Agešins of Harmony said the recognition of the observance of the holiday would be a “good start toward already belated dialogue between different groups in divided Latvian society”, MP Aleksandrs Kiršteins recalled that the holiday used to be in total synchrony on the calendar before the Soviet occupation with other Christian Christmas dates and warned of legalizing another imposed result of the Soviet-era past.

Indeed, the Orthodox faithful in Estonia and Greece celebrate Christmas with the rest of the Christian world in December.

Regarding the approximately 400,000 combined population of Russian Orthodox and Old Believers in Latvia, Unity deputy Hosam Abu Meri pointed out that as he his from Lebanon, where many different religions are practiced side by side and everyone may enjoy their personal religious holidays said "these people need their date to makrk the holiday."

On her part Silvija Šimfa (For Latvia From the Heart) recalled that people were longing for a sense of togetherness. When there is a need to donate, to care for each other at tragic moments then people come together, then "why don't we want to be fair and show solidarity and togetherness at the happy holiday times as well," she asked.

A previously floated compromise bill might be revived that recommends adding an extra optional holiday for those whose religious beliefs require more holidays than most.

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