New Zealand Public Holidays

Waitangi Day

New Zealand’s public day is Waitangi Day, which is celebrated on 6 February.  Waitangi Day commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which was sanctioned on the same day in 1840.

The Treaty of Waitangi made New Zealand a part of the British Empire and, more importantly, guaranteed the land rights of the Maori people and afforded them the same rights as British citizens.  It was signed on the grounds of the house owned by James Busby, New Zealand’s first public servant, in 1840.  The site is known today as Treaty House.  In 1932, the Governor-General purchased the house and presented it to the nation.  The grounds were made a public reserve and dedicated on 6 February, 1934.  Since then, Treaty House has been the location for official Waitangi Day ceremonies and celebrations.

Waitangi Day was not made an official holiday until 1974.  The government at the time passed a bill that made 6 February a public holiday known as New Zealand Day.  This was unpopular amongst New Zealanders, and the succeeding government changed it back to Waitangi Day in 1975.

Official celebrations at Waitangi commence on 5 February at the Ngauphi Te Tii marae (a marae is a Maori sacred spot that serves religious and social purposes.)  Political dignitaries are welcomed to the marae and hear speeches from the local iwi (a Maori word for tribe or clan).  These speeches are often political and concern issues face by the Maori people today, encouraging discussion and debate.
At dawn, the Royal New Zealand Navy raises the New Zealand flag, Union flag and White Ensign on a flagpole on Treaty House grounds.  Various Maori and Pakeha (a Maori word meaning white person, usually of European descent) celebrations take place throughout the day, including church ceremonies and cultural song and dance.

The day ends with the flags being lowered in a traditional ceremony.
New Zealand residents celebrate Waitangi Day in a variety of ways.  While there are no official parades or events, Wellington and Auckland both take advantage of the spirit of the day by hosting festivals promoting tolerance and togetherness.  Concerts are also popular and as Waitangi Day is also Bob Marley’s birthday, reggae music is often played at Waitangi Day celebrations.  Many Maori groups use Waitangi Day as an opportunity to inform and education, and so invite people to their marae.

New Zealand expatriates often celebrate the day overseas.  The New Zealand Society UK hosts a Waitangi Day ball every year.  Many cities in Australia, which has one of New Zealand’s largest expatriate populations, host Waitangi Day events.  The biggest is the Waitangi Day and Pacific Island Festival at Carrara Stadium at the Gold Coast.  Up to 10 000 people attend to listen to New Zealand and Polynesian music.

ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day is celebrated on 25 April and commemorates the first major military campaign fought by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC.)  The soldiers who fought in this battalion were known as Anzacs.
The Anzacs landed at Gallipoli, Turkey, on 25 April 1915 with the intention of claiming Instanbul and knocking Turkey out of the war.  What resulted was a stalemate that lasted eight months.  The Anzacs were evacuated at the end of 1915 after both nation’s had suffered considerable losses – 8000 Australian soldiers and 2700 New Zealand soldiers died in Gallipoli.

ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance celebrated in Australia and New Zealand.  While the main emphasis is on the Anzacs, veterans and casualties from all wars are remembered.  In recent years, New Zealand protest groups have used ANZAC Day as a platform for anti-war protest.

Most people attend a dawn service on the morning of ANZAC Day.  Dawn services became popular after the returned Anzacs spoke of the comradeship they felt with their fellow soliders in the minutes before dawn.  Some New Zealanders like to emphasise that link by enjoying a gunfire breakfast – coffee with a shot of rum – just like the Anzacs did.

Dawn services are usually held at war memorials and at Returned Servicemen’s League (RSL) clubs.  They usually feature religious and/or commemorative speeches, followed by a minute’s silence and a rendition of The Last Post on bugle.  Some services conclude with a gun salute, although New Zealand’s strict gun laws can make that difficult.

The ANZAC Day motto is ‘Lest We Forget’, so the emphasis for ANZAC Day is remembering the fallen.  New Zealander’s wear poppies pinned to their lapels, a tradition borrowed from Remembrance Day.  Descendents of war veterans often wear their forefather’s badges and war medals.  After the dawn service, New Zealanders tend to spend the rest of the day in RSL Clubs enjoying an Anzacs two favourite pastimes – drinking beer and playing two-up, a game where punters place bets on the predicted outcome of flipping two pennies.