If you are Australian or a New Zealander, you understand the significance of Anzac Day. Occurring on the 25th of April every year, it’s an occasion to remember and commemorate all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations… and the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”
The day was originally intended to honor the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, called ANZAC, who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottomans during World War I. It has since encompassed soldiers of all wars, sort of like the American Memorial Day remembrance.
Anzac is a national public holiday throughout the region, and features marches within each state capital that are televised on live TV with commentary. Veterans and current soldiers from around Australia come together to participate in the festivities.
For many people, the day begins with an official dawn service. People gather around veterans’ memorials and take part in a moment of silence in honor of the fallen soldiers as the veterans “stand-to.” Hymns will then be sung, readings will take place, and rifles will be tossed about in celebration.
Anzac Day is also reflected in the local sports scene. Australian rules football matches are played on this day, including a traditional match between Essendon and Collingwood at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground. This tradition started in 1995. Rugby is also celebrated during this time, but it’s usually played one week prior to Anzac Day. The match is between Australian and New Zealand national teams.
Citizens also wear commemorative poppies similarly to the Brits for their Remembrance Day celebration in November.
If you’re visiting New Zealand, you’ll soon realize that the city shuts down completely for the occasion. Most shops close at 1pm as specified by the Anzac Day Act of 1966. You’ll have to do the majority of your heavy shopping on the day before.
As is the case with any national holiday, Anzac Day has faced it’s share of criticism, especially from New Zealanders. Many feel that the day has neglected to honor New Zealand’s contributions. There’s also some criticism from traditionalists who feel that the day has become too much of a carnival, especially for young people, rather than treating it as a solemn occasion.
Anzac Day is clearly celebrated by different individuals in different ways, but it’s general message of remembrance and pride is something that transcends generations.