As I write this, it is July 5th here but still July 4th in America where you are celebrating a special holiday for you. I’ve been reading the diaries inspired by this day. In a nation of diversity, it is unsurprising to discover that it means different things to different people; that it is a personal experience more than a national one.
Beyond the very evident love of country, a love that is enduring no matter which day it is, only one other element seems to tie each diary in unity: history. Reflections on the history of the country evoke seriousness and, for many, a deep sadness. Australia has only one such holiday and we deal with it in a very different way.
It’s a cultural difference. It isn’t better or worse, it’s just different. It doesn’t set our nations apart, there’s no sense of separation. It’s just individuality; just as people are individuals, nations are too.
We love our holidays. We love those breaks in routine that give us the freedom to do whatever we like. We’re far more secular in outlook too; God doesn’t figure too prominently in any of our holidays, even the obviously religious ones like Christmas and Easter. To better explain this, I’ll go through the list of the main ones.
Incidentally, if any of these holidays happens to fall on a weekend, we also get the following Monday off because a proper holiday entails a day off work. The only exception to this is Anzac Day.
New Year’s Day: We celebrate this before most countries in the world simply because of our geographic positioning close to the International Date Line. That means we get to have the first major fireworks display in Sydney and we’re going to make sure it’s really spectacular, set the bar really high, so all you other countries are properly challenged in this department.
New Year’s Day also falls in Summer for us so it’s a barbie and beach day. First day of the year? That’s nice – time to turn those snags on the barbie, luv. New Year’s resolutions? I’ll think about it tomorrow – pass the potato salad, mate. We have priorities.
Australia Day: January 26th, marking the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British colonists. It should be celebrated on January 1st, the anniversary of Australia’s federation in 1901, but that day is already a holiday and we’re not about to double up. Sydney has some kind of First Fleet re-enactment but that’s Sydney for you.
Australia Day is really about celebrating being Australian and acknowledging individual achievements. It’s the day Australian medals are awarded (much like British knighthoods), and the Australian of the Year is announced. It’s also citizenship day, when brand new citizens are welcomed to the Australian family in ceremonies all over the country.
Of course it’s also another reason to fire up the barbie and that means lamb is on the menu.
Sam does speak quite rapidly (a lot to say in a short amount of time, that's our Sam) so if you need a transcript, don't hesitate to ask and I shall add it in.
Easter: Permission to eat chocolate that’s there, never mind hunting for it, we don’t go in for that sort of thing. Some go to church but most don’t bother – they’re not going to sing those nice carols so we’ll give it a miss. The really important thing about Easter is the length of the holiday. It stretches from Good Friday to the following Tuesday – Tuesday being a bank holiday, one of those days when banks feel they need an extra day off so we all follow suit.
Five days is a decent amount of time to organize a short trip somewhere, catch up with far flung rellies or friends, go camping or get some stuff done around the house. That it includes three week days off work is a bonus in itself worth celebrating.
Anzac Day: ANZAC is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and is always celebrated on the 25th of April. It’s our one day of solemn reflection. In comradeship with our cousins across the Tasman Sea, it marks the anniversary of a defeat at Gallipoli in Turkey during the First World War when thousands of lives were lost. It says a lot about our two countries that we reserve a day to mark a defeat and not a victory. War is about loss.
It begins with a dawn service followed by a morning march of all armed forces personnel to the local cenotaph in every city and town. By lunch time, those personnel have retired to the nearest pub where solemnity is put aside in favor of two-up (a gambling game that is legal everywhere on this one day of the year) and copious amounts of alcohol. The rest of us go home and enjoy the day off work which is also likely to include alcohol.
Labour Day: Always a Monday but the date varies from state to state. It celebrates the 8-hour working day which seems as good a reason as any for a day off work.
Queens’ Birthday: This is never held on the Queen’s birthday. The actual date varies from state to state and depends on when that state was founded, who happened to be the British monarch at the time and when their birthday was, or just moved to a more convenient weekend later in the year (there are fewer long weekends late in the year so this is seen as a reasonable response to try and even things out a bit). Although we’re a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, we’re not strong royalists by any stretch of the imagination. But a holiday is a holiday and we’re not about to give any of them up.
Melbourne Cup Day: This is a half day holiday for Melbourne but pretty much everyone around the nation stops work during the running of the Melbourne Cup. Even schools pause so students can watch this horse race!
Christmas Day: If you’re not a church-goer but you love the carol-singing, no problem. Every city and town holds a Carols-by-Candlelight event in a local park. The two biggest are in Sydney and Melbourne which are televised for those who prefer an armchair view.
The whole Christmas tree and Santa thing is for the kiddies while present-giving and a large dinner is for everyone. It has more the atmosphere of bonhomie and family get-togethers than any religious overtones.
Boxing Day: This is the day after Christmas and a relic of British custom which we still indulge because, hey, it’s a holiday! Most Australians wouldn’t have a clue about the origins of Boxing Day but they do know it marks the beginning of the Boxing Day Test, a cricket match between Australia and whatever international team happens to be touring our country at the time.
To really get a feel for how Aussies love their holidays, this video says it all.
We love our holidays. We take a passing interest in what they're about (many Australians don't know if it's Labour Day or the Queen's Birthday and are beastly careless really) but will happily inform you that the main thing is: "It's a bloody holiday, mate, enjoy yourself!"
This diary is dedicated to Angie in WA State.
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