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Colombian Holidays and the Monday "Emiliani Law"

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Colombian Holidays and the Monday "Emiliani Law"

Colombia is a country known for its warm-hearted people and culture. One thing that you might have noticed too if you’ve been here for more than a few weeks is that it feels like every other Monday is a festivo. With a total of 20 public holidays (festivos) in a year of which 18 will fall during the week, so schools and jobs will have the day off, it ranks as the fourth country globally with the most days off. Thus, offering Colombians and visitors plenty of opportunities to join in on the nation’s festivities.

However, for some Colombians and especially foreigners, the abundance of holidays can be a tad overwhelming, leading to a lack of familiarity with the significance of each celebration.
Many Colombian holidays are steeped in religious tradition, with days like Good Thursday and Good Friday being prime examples. Other holidays are rooted in the nation’s history, including significant events such as the Battle of Boyacá and Colombia’s Independence. Additionally, there are universally recognized days such as Christmas and Labor Day that are observed globally.
While many of these holidays are influenced by Catholic traditions, it’s interesting to note that the earliest recorded holidays date back to India, around two thousand years before Christ. Here, Hinduism practitioners dedicated four days annually to honor their gods.

This practice of earmarking days for special events gradually spread across different nations. For instance, in the Roman Empire, the calendar was filled with numerous special dates due to their extensive pantheon of gods. They enjoyed celebrating each deity, leading to a packed calendar of festivities. As Juan Gossain humorously notes in his column ‘Colombia took the world holiday championship from Russia’ in El Tiempo, “They had so much fun with this that they resembled old Colombians.”

However, in Colombia, these special dates did not always translate to leisure time for families or rest for workers. This was due to a specific law that transformed most holidays into ‘bridges’ – effectively turning them into three-day long weekends, rather than breaking up the week.

Why Are Colombian Holidays Always on Monday?

In Colombia, the phenomenon of moving certain holidays to Mondays is known as the “Puente Festivo” system, which translates to “holiday bridge.” Is a law called ‘Emiliani Law‘ that was implemented for several reasons:

1. Economic Benefits: Extending weekends to include holidays can boost domestic tourism. People often take short trips or vacations when they have a long weekend, which benefits local economies and the tourism industry.
2. Reduced Absenteeism: In countries where holidays fall on fixed dates, there is a tendency for increased absenteeism around these dates, as people often take additional days off to create a long weekend. By officially moving these holidays to Mondays, it encourages people to take less unplanned time off work.
3. Traffic and Congestion Management: In densely populated areas, having holidays on weekdays can lead to traffic congestion and transportation challenges. By moving holidays to Mondays, it helps to spread out traffic and reduce congestion on regular weekdays.
4. Improved Work-Life Balance: The puente system allows for more consistent long weekends, which can improve work-life balance for many people. It offers a predictable schedule for planning family activities and rest periods.
This approach to public holidays is common in several countries, as it provides a more predictable and beneficial way of managing days off for both the economy and the general populace.

The “Emiliani Law”

The opportunity for vacations, excursions, and ‘Puente Festivo’ (‘bridge’) activities in Colombia can be attributed to Raimundo Emiliani Román, a distinguished senator and former minister from Cartagena, affiliated with the Conservative Party.
Emiliani, whose life spanned from 1914 to 2005, held multiple significant roles including congressman, ambassador, author of seven books, professor, and a key member of the National Constituent Assembly of 1991. As Minister of Labor and Justice, he was notable for advocating for subsidies and family compensation funds and played a crucial role in upholding Human Rights during the formation of the most recent Constitution.
Emiliani’s most lasting legacy in Colombian history is the renowned ‘Emiliani Law’. This law, enacted on December 6, 1983, and formally known as ‘Law 51’, allows for the shifting of 10 out of the country’s 18 holidays to the subsequent Monday, should they originally occur between Tuesday and Sunday.
This significant legislation ensures that all employees, in both the public and private sectors, are entitled to paid leave on these holidays, encompassing both civil and religious observances.

Specifically, the law stipulates that the holidays during the moths of January, March, June, August, October, November, as well as the religious days of Ascension of the Lord, Corpus Christi, and Sacred Heart of Jesus, will be observed on the following Monday if they do not fall on a Monday. Below are the Holidays that always fall on a Monday: 

Jan – The Three Kings
March – Saint Joseph’s Day
May – Ascension Day Holiday
June – Corpus Christi Day
June – Day of the Scared Heart of Jesus
July – Saint Peter & Saint Paul
August – Boyaca Battle 
August – Assumption of the Virgin
October – Columbus Day 
November – All Saints Day 
November – Cartagena Independence Day 


Remarkably concise, the law comprises just four articles and eight paragraphs, earning it recognition as one of the most succinct and clear-cut laws in the annals of Colombian legal history, as noted by Gossain.
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