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Who Owns the Holidays of Australia?

by CiCi
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Australia is a land of diverse cultures and traditions, where the celebration of holidays reflects the rich tapestry of its history and the vibrant communities that inhabit it. Understanding who owns the holidays of Australia requires delving into the historical, cultural, and social contexts that shape these celebrations. This article explores the origins and ownership of Australian holidays, considering the perspectives of Indigenous Australians, European settlers, and the multicultural population that makes up modern Australia.

Indigenous Holidays and Cultural Significance

Before European colonization, Indigenous Australians had their own complex systems of timekeeping and celebration, deeply rooted in the natural world and spiritual beliefs. These celebrations often coincided with seasonal changes and significant environmental events.

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Dreamtime and Seasonal Celebrations

Indigenous Australians’ concept of time and holidays is fundamentally different from the Western calendar. The Dreamtime, or the Dreaming, refers to the time of creation when ancestral beings shaped the world. Many Indigenous holidays and ceremonies are linked to these ancestral stories and the seasonal cycles of the land.

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For instance, the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory celebrate the Märra’ka, a ceremony marking the arrival of the macassan traders and the northeast monsoon. Similarly, the Nyoongar people of Western Australia have six seasons, each marked by specific environmental changes and activities, such as the blooming of certain flowers or the arrival of migratory birds.

NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week is a significant event that celebrates the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Originally known as National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week, it has evolved into a week-long celebration held every July, encompassing a range of activities from cultural performances to educational workshops. NAIDOC Week’s ownership is firmly within the Indigenous communities, but it is embraced nationwide, highlighting the importance of Indigenous culture in the broader Australian identity.

Colonial and National Holidays

The arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 marked the beginning of European colonization and the introduction of Western holidays to Australia. Many of these holidays have their roots in British traditions but have been adapted to fit the Australian context.

Australia Day

Australia Day, celebrated on January 26th, marks the anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival at Port Jackson, New South Wales, in 1788. For many Australians, it is a day of national pride and celebration of the country’s achievements. However, for Indigenous Australians, it is a day of mourning, referred to as Invasion Day or Survival Day, symbolizing the beginning of dispossession and cultural disruption.

The ownership of Australia Day is contested. While it is a national public holiday recognized and celebrated by the government and many Australians, Indigenous communities continue to call for a change of date or a rethinking of the celebration to acknowledge the historical and ongoing impacts of colonization.

Anzac Day

Anzac Day, observed on April 25th, commemorates the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli during World War I. It is a day of national remembrance for all Australians who served and died in military operations. Anzac Day is owned by the nation, with ceremonies and marches held in communities across Australia and at significant battle sites overseas.

The dawn service, a central part of Anzac Day commemorations, has its roots in military tradition and is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by Australian service members. Anzac Day also highlights Australia’s close ties with New Zealand, with both countries sharing this day of remembrance.

Multicultural Celebrations

Australia’s multicultural population has brought a rich diversity of cultural holidays and festivals, contributing to the vibrant mosaic of Australian society. These celebrations are owned by their respective cultural communities but are often embraced by the wider population.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Australia, particularly in cities with significant Chinese populations like Sydney and Melbourne. The festival, which marks the beginning of the lunar new year, features dragon and lion dances, fireworks, and street festivals. Chinese New Year is owned by the Chinese-Australian community, but its festivities attract participants from all cultural backgrounds, reflecting Australia’s multicultural ethos.

Diwali

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is another significant multicultural celebration in Australia. Celebrated by the Indian community, Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. The festival includes lighting lamps, exchanging gifts, and enjoying festive foods. Diwali’s ownership lies with the Indian-Australian community, yet it has found a place in the broader Australian festive calendar, with public events and celebrations held in various cities.

Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha

Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are important Islamic holidays celebrated by Australia’s Muslim community. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, while Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. These holidays are celebrated with communal prayers, feasts, and acts of charity. The ownership of Eid celebrations belongs to the Muslim community, but they are increasingly recognized and celebrated in the wider Australian society.

Public Holidays and Government Recognition

Public holidays in Australia are established by government legislation, and their ownership is effectively held by the state. These holidays often reflect a blend of Indigenous, colonial, and multicultural influences.

Queen’s Birthday

The Queen’s Birthday is celebrated on different dates across Australia, reflecting the country’s federal structure. It is a public holiday that honors the birthday of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. While it may seem anachronistic to some, the holiday highlights Australia’s historical ties to the British Crown. The ownership of the Queen’s Birthday as a public holiday is clearly governmental, although its relevance is debated in the context of Australia’s evolving identity.

Labour Day

Labour Day, also known as May Day in some states, celebrates the achievements of workers and the labor movement. The date varies across states and territories, commemorating significant events in the history of labor rights in Australia. Labour Day’s ownership lies with the trade unions and the broader labor movement, but it is recognized as a public holiday by the government, reflecting its importance in Australia’s social and economic history.

Christmas and Easter

Christmas and Easter are Christian holidays that have become part of Australia’s national holiday calendar. Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, while Easter, which varies each year, celebrates his resurrection. These holidays are owned by the Christian community but are widely observed across Australia, reflecting the country’s historical Christian heritage. Christmas and Easter also feature secular traditions, such as gift-giving and Easter egg hunts, making them inclusive celebrations enjoyed by people of all backgrounds.

Emerging and Controversial Holidays

As Australia’s cultural landscape continues to evolve, new holidays and commemorations emerge, reflecting changing societal values and historical re-evaluations.

Mabo Day

Mabo Day, celebrated on June 3rd, commemorates the landmark High Court decision in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992), which recognized Native Title in Australia. This decision overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius, acknowledging the traditional land rights of Indigenous Australians. Mabo Day is owned by the Indigenous community, particularly the Torres Strait Islander community, and serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for land rights and justice.

Sorry Day

National Sorry Day, observed on May 26th, commemorates the history and continued effects of the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, known as the Stolen Generations. The day is marked by ceremonies, speeches, and educational activities aimed at promoting reconciliation and healing. Sorry Day’s ownership is shared between Indigenous Australians and the broader community, reflecting a collective commitment to acknowledging past injustices and working towards a more inclusive future.

Harmony Day

Harmony Day, celebrated on March 21st, promotes cultural diversity and inclusiveness in Australia. The day coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Harmony Day’s ownership lies with the government and the broader Australian society, emphasizing the importance of multiculturalism and the need to celebrate and respect cultural differences.

See also: When is the Australian Day Holiday?

Conclusion

The ownership of holidays in Australia is a complex and multifaceted issue, reflecting the country’s diverse cultural heritage and evolving social landscape. Indigenous Australians, European settlers, and multicultural communities all contribute to the rich tapestry of Australian holidays, each bringing their own traditions and perspectives.

While some holidays, like Australia Day, remain contentious and highlight the ongoing need for dialogue and reconciliation, others, such as NAIDOC Week and Harmony Day, celebrate the nation’s diversity and promote a sense of shared identity.

Ultimately, the holidays of Australia are owned by its people, a reflection of the country’s history, culture, and values. As Australia continues to grow and change, so too will its holidays, evolving to encompass new traditions and meanings that resonate with all Australians.

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