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Story: Public holidays

Some of New Zealand's public holidays, such as Good Friday and Christmas Day, are celebrated in many countries, but others, such as Waitangi Day, are unique to New Zealand. All have distinctly New Zealand aspects.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: New Year's Eve fireworks, Mt Maunganui, 2010

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New Zealand has 11 statutory public holidays. In most cases they give people a day off work. Some holidays are ‘Mondayised’ – if the day falls on a weekend, workers get the Monday off instead.

History

From 1873 banks were required to close on six specific holidays, but most other people had to work. Laws governing working conditions extended these holidays to some other workers. The first statutory public holiday for all workers was Labour Day, from 1899.

Easter

Easter has religious significance for Christians. Many people enjoy hot cross buns and chocolate eggs. Easter is in March or April, though the date changes each year. Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays.

Christmas

Christmas is celebrated with carol singing, Christmas trees and present-giving, and Christians may go to church. In New Zealand Christmas is in summer, so some people go to the beach or have barbecues. Christmas Day (25 December) and Boxing Day (26 December) are holidays.

New Year

Scottish settlers made New Year’s Eve a big celebration, including ‘first footing’ – trying to be the first person to visit a neighbour in the new year. In the 2000s New Year’s Eve features fireworks and parties. New Year’s Day and 2 January are holidays.

Provincial anniversaries

Provincial anniversary days are on different days in different areas. They were celebrated from the mid-19th century, usually on the day that the first European settlers arrived in a region. Sports events, regattas, balls and races were held.

Queen’s Birthday

Queen’s Birthday is the first Monday in June – not the actual date of the queen’s birthday.

Labour Day

Labour Day was first celebrated in 1890 by trade unionists, who wanted the eight-hour working day extended to all workers. It became a public holiday in 1899, and is the fourth Monday in October.

Anzac Day

Anzac Day (25 April) is the anniversary of the landing of New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli (in modern-day Turkey) during the First World War. It honours all New Zealanders who served in wars overseas, and services and parades are held at war memorials.

Waitangi Day

Waitangi Day (6 February) commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Māori and the British Crown in 1840. It has sometimes been the focus of protests about breaches of the treaty.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Public holidays', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/public-holidays (accessed 23 May 2017)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 20 Jun 2012, updated 16 Sep 2016