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Australia's Public Holidays

From New Year's Day to Boxing Day

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Australia's national public holidays are observed on the same day throughout the country with public holidays occurring on different dates being declared by the states and territories individually.

As an example, Anzac Day, a national public holiday, is observed on April 25 each year in all the Australian states and territories.

When a public holiday falls on a Saturday, Sunday or a generally accepted non-working day, the following working day may be declared a public holiday.

1. New Year's Day

Fireworks usher in the new year © City of Sydney
Fireworks usher in the new year © City of Sydney

Australia's New Year's Day is a national public holiday, starting with fireworks and festivities from the start of the year at the stroke of midnight. New Year's Day is celebrated on January 1 in common with countries following the Gregorian calendar. Those going by the lunar calendar, such as Australia's Chinese and Vietnamese communities, may have a different day for the start of the year.

2. Australia Day

Australia Day Ferrython © Tourism New South Wales
Australia Day Ferrython © Tourism New South Wales

Australia Day, celebrated nationally on January 26, commemorates the founding in 1788 of the first European settlement on Australia soil in the area now known as The Rocks in Sydney Cove. In fact Australia had first been reached by the British in 1770 when English explorer Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay on the Sydney coast and then continued sailing north in Queensland waters, making landfall in the town that has been named 1770. Cook, of course, claimed Australia for England but it was only after nearly 18 years that the British First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove and founded the settlement that has grown to become today's Sydney. A ferry race on Sydney Harbour is a traditional Australia Day event.

3. Labor Day

Labor Day is observed on the first Monday in March in Western Australia, second Monday in March in Victoria, first Monday in May in Queensland, and first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. The equivalent holiday in Tasmania is Eight Hours Day on the second Monday in March. The equivalent holiday in the Northern Territory is May Day on the first Monday in May.

4. Good Friday

Good Friday, in a predominantly Christian Australia, is the Friday before Easter Sunday on the Christian liturgical calendar. It commemorates the passion and death of Jesus Christ who died by crucifixion. Since Easter is a moveable feast — occurring between March 22 and April 25 — Good Friday is consequently observed on different dates in succeeding years.

5. Easter Monday

With Easter occurring on a Sunday, the following day, Easter Monday, has been declared a national public holiday. Easter, on the Christian calendar, is said to have been set by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 as the first Sunday after the full moon, described as the Paschal full moon) following the northern hemisphere's vernal equinox.

6. Anzac Day

The landing at Gallipoli by soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in World War I is commemorated in Australia's Anzac Day national public holiday on April 25 each year, anniversary of the 1915 landing. More than 8700 Australian diggers died in the Gallipoli campaign which actually ended in defeat. Dawn services and Anzac Day parades are highlights of the day, as is the gambling game of two-up which is traditionally allowed on Anzac Day.

7. Queen's Birthday

The Queen's Birthday holiday is observed nationally on the first Monday in June, except in Western Australia where it may take place in late September or early October. The Queen's Birthday holiday celebrates the birthday of Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, but the day of the public holiday does not fall on her actual birthday, which is April 21.

8. Christmas Day

Santa and friends in Sydney's Martin Place, courtesy City of Sydney
Santa and friends in Sydney's Martin Place, courtesy City of Sydney

Well, Christmas Day, December 25, has to be a holiday, so let's not Scrooge it. A religious holiday commemorating the birth of Christ, Christmas has become more of a lay celebration with gift-giving, family reunions, and parties. The commercialisation of Christmas is often decried but there remain those devoutly involved in religious practices including among Catholics the traditional Midnight Mass.

9. Boxing Day

Okay, who's for a bout of boxing? The day after Christmas, December 26, is Boxing Day in Australia, and no, there's no pugilism involved. A number of countries in the Commonwealth of Nations do celebrate Boxing Day which some believe to have originated in the Middle Ages and involves the giving of gifts to the needy. In South Australia, the day is celebrated as Proclamation Day which commemorates the proclamation of South Australia as a British province on December 28, 1836.

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