Australian public holidays: What you need to know

No matter your home country, public holidays can be found in almost every nation on earth. They mark a key date in the calendar for collective celebration and a day of rest. These national public holiday dates often note a key moment or event in a country’s history. They act as a window into our national story and tell you a little bit about our shared history.

Australia is no exception to this rule. Australians celebrate many of the Christian calendar dates that other post-colonial countries do in the western world. While many critique them for being too commercialised now, they do still offer a welcomed respite from our working lives.

Many people who have visited other western nations, such as America, often speak highly of how Aussies approach their public holidays. Culturally on mass, these days are generally still reserved for time spent with friends and family.

Whilst it may seem cliché, the Australian lifestyle really does focus on being outdoors, socialising and taking time to enjoy yourself. With one third of Australians having immigrated from elsewhere, these celebrations in their new home can be a crucial step in their relocation process.

Australia carves up its public holidays in a slightly different way to other nations. Several key dates are considered to be public holidays for the whole country, then there are a handful of additional public holidays that change depending on the state and territory.

So which Australian public holidays do you need to know? The following holidays are consistent nationwide.

Christmas Day & Boxing Day – 25th & 26th December 

Obviously the most famous public holiday in the western world, Christmas is celebrated in the way you’d expect. Families come together and exchange gifts and poor jokes. As the largest migrant community in Australia, people from the UK often return to their home country for Christmas. Those who stay often struggle with the middle of summer heat at this time of year. Forty degree heat can be a challenge when coupled with a traditional hearty festive dinner. Some British expats use ‘Christmas in July’ in the Australian midwinter as a substitute to get their festive fix.

Anzac Day – 25th April

Anzac stands for Australia & New Zealand Army Corps. After a battle for the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915, this date has been set aside to remember those who died fighting for the Australian military. Memorial ceremonies and marches take place across Australia on the day.

Around this time, the Anzac biscuit can also be found in many shops and restaurants. The biscuit was originally sent to the frontline soldiers from their friends and family. It is eaten in modern times to commemorate this tradition (and because it’s delicious). If you’re in Western Australia, two public holiday days are set aside for Anzac instead of one.

Good Friday & Easter Monday – 10th & 13th April

Easter always falls on a weekend in the Australian calendar. Again this holiday is typical of other western countries, with roots in the Christian religion when Jesus rose from the dead. Many non-religious people still celebrate Easter in Australia, with the gifting of chocolate eggs to signify new life and spring.

New Year’s Day – 1st January 

A night for a big party! Australians head out to enjoy drinks with friends and family on New Year’s Eve to ‘see in the new year’ with their nearest and dearest. An informal tradition is to count down the clock at midnight and kiss your loved one as it chimes.

Many Australian’s use the coming of a new year to make resolutions to themselves about how they will change their life for the better in the coming 12 months. Unfortunately, these resolutions to find a better job, lose weight, travel, etc are promises that aren’t always followed through with!

Australia Day – 26th January 

Australia Day is the official national day for the country. This day was first marked to celebrate the British colonists arriving in Australia in 1788. However, due to controversy with recent history, Australia Day has been repositioned as a day to celebrate community, diversity and family. On the day, Australians typically will spend time with their friends and family at organised events.

Other Australian public holidays found in specific states & territories

Melbourne Cup Day – 3rd November (Victoria only)

Australia’s most sports-mad state gives their residents the day off for the largest horse race in the country. On the first Tuesday in November, Victoria enjoys a public holiday with the race and a carnival hosted in the capital Melbourne.

As a football obsessed state, Victorians also enjoy another day off earlier in the year for the AFL Grand Final.

Labour Day – varied dates

Labour Day commemorates Australia’s workforce winning the rights to an 8 hour working day in the 19th century. This day is celebrated in early March by Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, early May by Northern Territory and Queensland. New South Wales and South Australia celebrate Labour Day in early October.

Queen’s Birthday – 8th June

As she is still technically our Head of State, the Queen of the United Kingdom’s birthday warrants an Australian public holiday of its own. Most states celebrate this day on the 8th June, apart from Western Australia who celebrate on 28th September and Queensland who celebrate on the 5th October. (Take note, these dates are for the current 2020 public holidays and change each year based on the weekly calendar.)

Want to learn more about Australia culture and lifestyle?

Check out our article on Aussie terms and phrases so you can understand what the bloody hell everyone is going on about.

The holidays can be tough for those who have relocated. Many find they miss their family most at this time of the year. If you’re struggling, check out our article on dealing with homesickness.

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