Revising our Statutory Public Holidays
by Keith Rankin, 2 July 2009
It is now Matariki, our indigenous New Year and mid-winter festival. Each year, there is increasing clamour for Matariki to be recognised with a public holiday.
The debate depends critically on whether we are advocating an additional public holiday, or are advocating replacing an existing statutory holiday. To get the business community onside, we have to be considering the latter. Therefore the debate broadens into a wider assessment of the meanings and placement of all of our public holidays.
Some holidays fall at times of traditional festivities, which tend to celebrate the four seasons. New Zealand is unbalanced in this regard, with just two seasons covered by Christmas, New Year and Easter.
Other holidays relate to important events in a country's history. New Zealand has Waitangi Day, Anzac Day, Labour Day and the provincial holidays.
That just leaves Queens Birthday, as a remnant celebration of Empire. We chose to celebrate it ahead of Great Britain to show that we were the most loyal of Britain's dominions. While celebrated in England, the home of the Queen, it's not actually a public holiday there.
New Zealand has no public holidays between early June and late October, a period of 20 weeks. Unlike most countries, we have no winter celebration and no spring celebration.
We can remedy these omissions by replacing the Queens Birthday holiday and the January 2nd holiday with holidays in late June (eg last Monday of June) and on Dominion Day (26 September) which fortuitously falls within four days of the spring equinox, and when the kowhai tree is in full flower.
Rather than replacing the Queens Birthday holiday, Matariki could merge with it. Thus it would become the celebration of the indigenous New Year, the winter solstice, and New Zealand's constitutional links to the monarchy. It would be an ideal day for the New Zealand honours list to be made public.
Dominion Day 1907 may have been only a symbolic transition from our being a colony to becoming a nation. But that transition is important to us as a modern independent western nation, and there can be little doubt that that transition is now complete.
Of perhaps greater importance than its historical significance, Dominion Day serves as a perfect date for a New Zealand spring festival. Further, a monday-ised holiday for Dominion Day falls within the school holidays (except in 2011, on account of the Rugby World Cup).
We do not need a holiday on January 2. What this day does is cement the view that summer is from December 25 to early January. For many of us the best weather is in late January and early February. Further, about 70% of the population enjoy anniversary holidays in late January.
We need to think of the whole summer school holiday period as being from 24 December until Waitangi Day, with the Christmas New Year period focusing on tradition, family, the pohutukawa, and the summer solstice; and with the final weeks of that holiday period representing the principal period for summer holidays.
By removing, 2 January as a holiday, it gives us more space to continue working immediately after New Years Day, with late January early February becoming the period in which most workers take their summer leave.
Matariki and Dominion Day give us opportunities to celebrate the remaining seasons in a truly New Zealand way. They would give us a break when we most need it; in mid-winter, and at the end of winter. Queens Birthday holiday can be incorporated into Matariki. And 2 January is a holiday that we don't need; a holiday that just makes it harder for us to get back to work in early January.