Keith Rankin: Kiwi common sense on public holidays

13 comments
We take a day off for Christmas when it falls on a weekend, so why not all of the annual statuatory holidays?
Photo / Thinkstock
We take a day off for Christmas when it falls on a weekend, so why not all of the annual statuatory holidays? Photo / Thinkstock

David Clark has a bill before Parliament to "Monday-ise" Waitangi Day and Anzac Day whenever those days fall on a weekend. (Support growing for 'Monday-ising' bill)

The bill is a piece of simple common sense, applying the principle that a country with 11 annual statutory holidays should have 11 statutory holidays every year.

Discussion on the principle has been muted, largely because of ambiguity around the language of Monday-isation. We accept the Monday-isation of Christmas Day and New Year's Day without a second thought. When Christmas Day falls on a Saturday we celebrate it on the Saturday, but we still have a holiday on the following Monday.

On Auckland Anniversary Day, we do it differently. The anniversary is 29 January, but we celebrate it on the day we take the holiday.

Clearly, what worries some people is that, if we Monday-ise Waitangi Day, we would have to celebrate it on 8 February if Waitangi Day falls on a Saturday.

Common sense tells us otherwise. We will always celebrate Waitangi Day on Waitangi Day, just as we always celebrate New Year's Day on New Year's Day.

The big issue is the principle, that 11 days per year actually means 11 days per year. And when we think about that principle for a few seconds, we realise that there is another problem, not addressed by the Clark bill. For most New Zealanders 10 of our 11 holidays are crowded into a period of 166 days. From 8 June to 24 December, we experience 200 days with just Labour Day to enjoy.

Public holidays reflect both significant dates of national history, and religious traditions.

The religious traditions, like the traditions that preceded them, closely follow the calendar. They are generally well spaced throughout the year, celebrating the seasons, especially the equinoxes and the solstices. The most enduring celebrations are those around the spring equinox (Easter in Christianity) and the winter solstice (Christmas). Other traditional celebrations have been less enduring, such as the fertility festival of Beltane, in early May.

The problem for us in New Zealand is, of course, that these are northern festivities transposed to the Southern Hemisphere, where seasons are opposite. New Zealand has as great a need for festivities in winter and spring as our northern ancestors had. Furthermore indigenous New Zealanders certainly did have an acknowledgement of mid-winter: Matariki.

It's time to get the calendrical broom out, and sweep away holidays that do not reflect our history, or our traditions as they move further into the twenty-first century.

Does anyone know why we have a statutory holiday on 2 January? It's actually got something to do with our Scottish roots. Nowadays, all it does is delay us from getting back to work, effectively extending the summer silly season by a week.

And do we need to celebrate the monarch's birthday with a holiday? They celebrate the Queen's Birthday in Britain a week after we do, but without a holiday. Further, we have Waitangi Day which commemorates the unique relationship that New Zealanders hold with the Crown.

So, if we ditch those two holidays, we can rectify the mid-June to mid-December holiday drought, and have our own celebrations around the southern winter solstice and the southern spring equinox. Fortunately, the dates volunteer themselves.

In the New Zealand spirit of pragmatism and common sense, and noting that the school holidays are well aligned to the seasons, the two new holidays could be the first Mondays of the winter and spring school holidays. That means, the last Monday of June, and the last Monday of September.

The world of work is always disrupted by school holidays, when so many parents take annual leave. Thus holidays on these dates will work well for employers and educational establishments.

Fortunately, these dates both already have either tradition or historical significance in New Zealand.

While Matarki - Maori New Year - is traditionally a moving festivity, like Easter, we can choose to fix a holiday at the end of June through which to focus Matariki festivities. Indeed many Pakeha New Zealanders already celebrate a Kiwi Christmas around 25 June.

New Zealand didn't become a nation on a single date. But one date that comes in the middle of the various dates is Dominion Day, 26 September 1907. Thus a holiday at the end of September can be used to celebrate both the spring equinox, and New Zealand's growth as an independent multicultural nation.

So let's cement the 11-day principle, foreclose on 2 January and Queens Birthday, and develop our own winter and spring traditions. It's common sense, just as it's common sense to give left-turning traffic priority.

* Keith Rankin teaches economics at Unitec

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 31 Aug 2014 19:55:45 Processing Time: 914ms