New Zealand has 12 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.
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. Since then a number of holidays have been added to the calendar. Some of these are based on Christian traditions, some honour communities, including our provincial past, some hark back to imperial times, and some are homegrown holidays celebrated only in New Zealand.
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 21st century New Year’s Eve features fireworks and parties. Both New Year’s Day and 2 January are holidays in New Zealand. If either or both fall on a weekend, they are Mondayised.
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. This is one of the holidays that is observed on the following Monday if it falls in the weekend.
Easter has religious significance for Christians. Many people enjoy hot cross buns and chocolate eggs. Easter is in March or April – the date changes each year. Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays.
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 have served in wars overseas, and services and parades are held at war memorials. A public holiday is held on the following Monday if it falls in the weekend.
King’s Birthday is the first Monday in June – not the actual date of the monarch’s birthday.
Matariki, the Māori new year, was first marked as a public holiday in 2022. It is observed on a Friday in late June or early July.
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 always observed on the fourth Monday in October.
Provincial anniversary days (now known officially as regional anniversary days) are observed on different days in different areas. They were celebrated from the mid-19th century, usually on the day that the first organised group of European settlers arrived in a region. Sports events, regattas, balls and races were held. They usually occur on a Monday, but there are some exceptions.
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. Both Christmas Day (25 December) and Boxing Day (26 December) are holidays. If either or both fall on a weekend, they are Mondayised.