Can Ukraine Really Afford More Holidays?

  • Can Ukraine Really Afford More Holidays?
Issue 107, December 2017.
Can Ukraine Really Afford More Holidays?
The Ukrainian government just officially recognised Catholic Christmas. It still recognises Orthodox Christmas. Can it really afford the world’s longest Christmas season?
It isn’t easy to move away from one global sphere of influence to another. Among hosts of reforms, anti-corruption efforts, and other legislation designed to turn the nation towards Europe, Ukraine has had to replace its old-style, Soviet-looking police uniforms with sharper American-inspired ones, replace the invasive “internal passports” that included records of where you live and work with new European-style ID cards, and is now deciding which holidays to celebrate. But instead of replacing holidays, Ukraine seems to just tack on Western holidays to an already packed traditional holiday calendar. Case in point? Christmas. Last month, Ukraine joined Belarus in recognising both Catholic and Orthodox Christmas (after Belarus), and now boasts the world’s longest Christmas season. But does Ukraine’s extended holiday calendar really justify the economic hit its productivity?
The ever-expanding holiday calendar
Fact is – Russia and the West have a very different set of holidays. Ukraine is right now caught between the two, and the result is an ever-expanding holiday calendar. Besides extending an already lengthy Christmas season – one which already saps productivity due to the excessive amounts of eating and drinking – Ukraine also has an extended holiday season at the beginning of May. Ukrainians often take time off between the Soviet-era holidays of International Workers’ Day (1 May) and Victory Day of Nazism (9 May), making early May an especially unproductive time of year in the country. In 2015, the government wanted to recognise the sacrifices of those fighting the Russian-aided conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The Defender of Ukraine Day (14 October) was created for this purpose, but instead of repackaging one of the May holidays, it was just added to the calendar. Even Valentine’s Day (14 February) is beginning to gain popularity in the country, although it has just added another headache for couples just a few weeks before the already popular International Women’s Day (8 March). 
Holidays cost money
While the jury isn’t out on the impact public holidays have on GDP, there is consensus that they do have an effect. For example, when Prince William marred Kate Middleton in 2011, the government gave people a day off to celebrate. The UK’s GDP that quarter dropped 0.1%. Of course, it’s impossible to say that the extra holiday solely caused the drop, but the Bank of England’s chief economist Spencer Dale, says his “best guess” is that it cost the country 0.4% in second quarter growth, a view seconded by the bank’s governor, Sir Mervyn King. Other organisations put the economic cost of each UK public holiday at between 1.2 to 2.3 billion GBP. Many argue that the increase in consumer spending and temporary positions available during these periods nearly make up for the cost, but with one of the lowest-paid workforces on the continent, do you really believe that to be the case in Ukraine?
Adopt a new calendar
It is understandably difficult to tell people what holidays they should celebrate at what times of year. It’s a little like the government telling you what language to speak or what religion to practice. These are all deeply personal cultural traditions, passed on to us by family members from generations long before us. That said, it is fair to have a conversation about just which holidays are to be celebrated in a country, especially in one – like Ukraine – that is going through a cultural renaissance. Setting aside the cultural argument for a moment, lets look at the economic side? Can Ukraine really afford to keep adding public holidays to the calendar? A discussion is needed as to how many holidays Ukraine can afford, which ones to keep, and which new ones to add. But until that happens, keep enjoying the world’s longest Christmas season!
-- Lee Reaney