Everybody loves holidays. But none love them more with such gusto than Aussies. These are the times when banks, some businesses, and government offices are closed, but with the tourist attractions open and the streets the busiest.
These are the times when the all too often busy folks take their time off, celebrate, and be with their family. But if your boss wants you to work on a holiday, not all is lost, because you’ll get a bigger compensation in return, usually 2.5 times, as a penalty rate.
Australian calendar is littered with holidays, and it usually varies from one state to another. But we will focus only on the eight biggest ones.
New Year’s Day
When: 1 January
Why: To welcome the beginning of the year with a bang.
Much like the rest of the world, Aussies get high and ecstatic during New Year’s Eve. Once the midnight bell rings, everybody goes on party mode, and it goes on until sunset.
Balls are the norm of the day, highlighted with themes like formal wear, masquerade, or even tropical dress codes. And they aren’t picky with the venues either. Celebrations can happen on beaches, boat cruises, parks, or just barbecues at home. Fireworks are lit everywhere, illuminating the sky with the hopes and dreams of a better year.
But the focal point perhaps, is the countdown. Held in various cities, especially Sydney, this ends with a huge bang of grandiose fireworks followed with the hugs, kisses, and toasts of champagnes from the locals. New Year never look and feel this good anywhere else.
When: 26 January
Why: To celebrate the arrival of the first fleet of the British Ships which marks the creation of modern Australia.
Most countries celebrate their nation’s inception during Independence Days, the time when they finally drove off foreign powers from their land. In Australia, they commemorate it by celebrating the time foreigners came into their land.
In 13 May 1787, a fleet of 11 ships commanded by Captain Arthur Philip landed ashore to establish the first British penal colony on Botany Bay, at the same time raising the flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove.
Australia Day is the time of the year when Australians become more Australian. History and heritage are being celebrated. Flags are being waved and worn. Fun runs are being held. Twenty-one gun-salutes are being fired. There are barbecue parties, pride parades, costumed balls, and yes fireworks. Australian’s will find any excuse to have fireworks.
When: Between March and April, depending where Easter will fall.
Why: To remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, because Australia is pre-eminently Catholic.
Aussies might always be partying and upbeat, but Holy Week is where things go lay low. Culminating on Good Friday, Holy Weeks is where people reflect, spend time with their families and friends (sans the partying), go on fasting, and pray.
Special church services and long prayer vigils are being held. Fish is being substituted to meat. Hot cross buns (small bread buns flavored with sugar and/or spices with a cross marking the top) are being eaten. Schools, post offices, shops, and most businesses are closed. Alcohol is tightly restricted also.
But still, some sporting events are being traditionally held on this time of the year, such as the Three Peaks Race in Tasmania, where people run, walk, and sail.
Easter Sunday and Monday
When: Between March and April, depending where Easter will fall.
Why: To commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Australians are big when it comes to Easter. When most cultures end their Lent on Sunday, Aussies had to extend it until the next day. It’s basically the long weekend we all need, but only Australians apparently deserve.
Like in most countries, Easter is a reason to celebrate. Churches are lavishly decorated. Joyful songs echoes across the hall from the choir. There are chocolate eggs and Easter egg hunts, too.
On Easter Monday, business and school are still closed. It is the opportunity for people to spend time with their friends and relatives through reunions, family dinners, and community events.
When: 25 April
Why: To commemorate Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.”
Originally, this holiday is meant to honor only the members of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, (or ANZAC, thus the name) who served and fought during World War I, battling the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli, Turkey. But it was expanded to commemorate entirely all those who served in the military operations of the two countries. This is a rare occasion in which two sovereign nations celebrate the same holiday of remembrance.
The commemoration starts with the Dawn Service, in which people gather on the war memorials of each state or city with the chaplains, veterans, and dignitaries to offer a solemn and poignant tribute to those who courageously fought for the country. It usually ends with songs, flowers and prayers. You will never see a more stirring ceremony or remembrance other than this.
When: Every second Monday of June (except in Western Australia, where they
celebrate it on October).
Why: Australia is under British monarchy, and they need to pay homage to the Queen.
For the record, Queen Elizabeth II was born 21 April 1926, so the date of this holiday doesn’t have anything to do with her actual birth date. Aussies celebrate whoever is the current monarch’s birthday ever since the late 1700s, and just moved the date to where it will be most convenient to them, regardless of what is written on the ruling king/queen’s birth certificate.
Like Easter, Queen’s Birthday is part of a three-day weekend. Shops and businesses are closed, and the roads are more congested than the usual, since people usually make holiday plans and go out of town. Public transport may decrease activity or not run at all. And yes, there are fireworks.
When: First Monday of October on most parts of Australia
Why: To commemorate the granting of the eight-hour workday to Australians
On 21 April, 1856, a group of building workers marched to Parliament House to make their plea heard: to be granted a fixed eight-hour working day with no loss of compensation or pay. Their call was heeded and became one of the very first organized workers in the world to achieve such privilege.
This inspired Labour Day celebrations around the world. A hundred years later, Australians commemorate this victory of the working class’ rights by… not working.
Like any three-day weekend, it is an opportunity for hardworking Aussies to sit back, relax, have barbecue with friends, drink wine, make holiday plans, travel, and spend time with loved ones.
When: 25 December
Why: Really? Come on, it’s Christmas!
This may not need any introduction. Everyone in the civilized world knows Christmas. But we feel the responsibility to preface it. Because Yuletide down under is wildly different.
Christmas in Australia arrives during the beginning of summer season. Much like the rest of the world, Christmas trees (known as Christmas Bushes), lights, and the Nativity scene are a staple of the decorations. But this is where the similarities take a surprising halt.
Their Santa Clause, for one, is often depicted in pop culture as a bearded guy in a wide-brimmed hat, tank tops, shorts, and flip flops, riding a car pulled by kangaroos. Also, people build sandmen in the beaches, which is like a snowman, but made of sand.
But perhaps the largest event during this season is the Carols by Candlelight, which involves people gathering in a park, singing Christmas songs amid candle lights. And may feature performances from artists and celebrities.
When: 26 December
Why: The day after Christmas, when employees and service workers would receive gifts from their bosses and customers
If you expect crowds gathering around two blokes trying to beat each other to the pulp on Boxing Day, you’re in for a disappointment, mate.
Instead of trading punches, people exchange gifts or “Christmas boxes” on this holiday. Known as the ‘second Christmas,” this festivity was handed down to the Aussies by the Brits as part of their cultural influence.
But gift boxes aren’t the only ones flowing during Boxing Day, but shopping bags as well. Much like Black Friday in the United States, this Christmas Day sequel is also a time for sales and humongous discounts. Retailers would usually open as early as five in morning, clearing their gates for the long line of shoppers who mostly have been waiting since the wee hours of 26 December.