When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand they began celebrating anniversaries, such as the annual provincial anniversaries.
Queen Victoria’s jubilees
Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee (the 50th anniversary of her reign) in 1887 was celebrated across the British Empire. In New Zealand public events included processions, fireworks and tree-plantings.
Her diamond jubilee (60th anniversary) was an even bigger celebration. There were large public events and some statues of the queen were erected.
New Zealand’s 50th anniversary, 1890
Auckland and Wellington disagreed on when to celebrate New Zealand’s 50th anniversary. There was a public holiday on 29 January, but the two provinces celebrated on different dates. No one suggested 6 February, the day the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, was first signed.
There were parades and public events, including sports events, around the country.
Provincial 50th anniversaries
Between 1890 and 1900 New Zealand’s provinces commemorated their own 50th anniversaries with local events. These focused on progress and celebrated the ‘old-timers’ – the surviving pioneers.
New Zealand’s centennial, 1940
By the 100th anniversary in 1940 the ‘old-timers’ had died, but they and their transformation of New Zealand from bush to farmland were still celebrated in the commemorations. There was some Māori involvement, and some protests against the treatment of Māori by the Crown. However, because the anniversary was during the Second World War and aimed to strengthen the national spirit, controversy was kept to a minimum.
The largest event was the Centennial Exhibition, a large fair held in Wellington. There were also events and historical re-enactments around the country. More than 250 centennial memorials were erected, including rest rooms, trees and parks. Books on New Zealand’s history and culture were published, a film was produced, and art exhibitions and competitions were held.
Provinces celebrated their 100th anniversaries over the next decade, with local events and memorials.
New Zealand’s sesquicentennial, 1990
In the 50 years since the centenary the Māori protest movement had grown and challenged the idea that New Zealand had perfect race relations. New Zealand had also become more multicultural. These changes were reflected in how the country celebrated its 150th anniversary. The commemorations mainly looked towards the future rather than the past, though there were some historic re-enactments.
The two major events were the Commonwealth Games, held in Auckland in January, and a day of commemoration on Waitangi Day, 6 February, when Queen Elizabeth II attended the ceremonies at Waitangi. Other events occurred in communities around New Zealand. The Sesqui 1990 fair in Wellington was a flop, and closed early.
Anniversaries since 1990
1993 marked 100 years since women won the vote in New Zealand, and the Suffrage Centennial Year Trust funded relevant projects including events, memorials, films and books.
In 2000 the new millennium was celebrated at publicly funded events in the Chatham Islands, at Mt Hikurangi on the East Coast, and in Gisborne – the first places to see the sun in the new year.
Many institutions, from schools to business, celebrate significant anniversaries. Anniversaries of wars or battles, such as the New Zealand wars and the First World War, are also commemorated.
In 2019, Tuia 250 commemorated the first onshore encounters between Māori and Europeans.