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By Capt Katie MacIntosh

Holiday traditions are essential to who we are as human beings. They help us form bonds with our families and communities, while connecting us with our history. Our holiday traditions offer us a sense of meaning, belonging, and unity. The ways in which we observe holidays serve as a form of expression for us. It is important that we take time throughout the year to meaningfully observe holidays that are significant to our respective traditions.

As we look at statutory holidays observed as designated paid holidays in the Canadian Armed Forces, a gap exists. In the CAF, we are fortunate to serve in a pluralistic context. Our organization is comprised of members from various faith, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. Our diversity greatly enriches the CAF community. Yet, most holidays observed with designated days off still surround the Christian calendar, or our national culture as Canadians.

For example, each year members look forward to Christmas block leave, or time off around Easter in the spring. Culturally, we know to expect a day off to celebrate Thanksgiving and Canada Day. Only recently have we begun to observe the important National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. But among the diversity in the CAF, members are personally observing many other holidays that are integral to their traditions such as Ramadan, Diwali, Bodhi Day, Yom Kippur, Chinese New Year, and many more.

As we strive toward further inclusivity and live into our pluralistic context as an organization, barriers must be removed to allow those who adhere to other spiritualities the opportunity to observe and participate in holiday traditions that are meaningful to them. A way the CAF has begun to make space for this is through the release of CANFORGEN 166/21 in October 2021, directing members to section 9.2 in the Canadian Armed Forces Leave Policy Manual. This chapter provides information on short leave available to “provide a member of the Regular Force or of the Reserve Force on Class "B" or "C" Reserve Service with time away from their duties in order to: take leave on days that coincide with and allow for participation in Spiritual/Faith Traditional beliefs, customs and practices.”1 According to this policy, our organization has taken this step to “recognize diversity, remove barriers to and promote inclusiveness throughout the CAF.”2

This is a positive step for our organization. For some, certain holidays throughout the year can just seem like another day. But for others, these days hold immense meaning and serve as a point of connection to their communities and their past. As we honour our pluralistic context, and foster an inclusive work environment, let us make space for members to observe their respective holiday traditions, and take the opportunity to learn from them as we celebrate our increasing diversity in the CAF.

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