A Guide to Australian Public Holidays for New Arrivals
A public holiday in Australia means many people have the day off work or study, and there are often special events held around the country. It can also mean many shops and non-essential services are closed for the day, transport may run to a weekend timetable and those who must work might receive higher rates of pay from their employer.
For those who are lucky enough to have the day off, a public holiday which falls on a Monday or Friday creates a “long weekend” where people have three days off in a row.
Below is a summary of the dates and significance of Australian public holidays (also please note that each state and territory can have their own special public holidays – you can click here for more information).
New Year’s Day – 1 January
New Year’s Day is the first public holiday of the year, celebrated on 1 January. It marks the beginning of the new year and is usually a time for reflection, resolutions, and spending time with family and friends. The public holiday break is movable, meaning that if the 1 January falls on a weekend, the public holiday is shifted to the Monday. Typically, the New Year’s Day public holiday could be spent resting from celebrations from the previous night (New Year’s Eve), and many head to the beach or parks if the weather is sunny. It is important to note that Australian schools are on holiday for most of the month of January.
Australia Day – 26 January
A controversial public holiday, Australia Day commemorates the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet from Britain into Sydney Cove in 1788. As such, there are growing public calls to change the date of Australia Day. For First Nations Australians, who had occupied the land for over 50,000 years prior to the arrival of the British, Australia Day is a day of mourning. Many non-Indigenous Australians feel the same way, which means you may hear the terms ‘Invasion Day’, ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Day of Mourning’ used instead in Australia Day.
It is also the day thousands of people officially become Australian citizens at citizenship ceremonies across the country.
The public holiday always occurs on 26 January, and, depending on your opinions of the day, is a day to reflect, respect or celebrate as there are several events and festivals held throughout the country from fireworks to backyard barbeques. Barbeques are a very common way for groups of people to socialise together while sharing a meal comprising meat and other foods.
The date of this four-day public holiday can change from year to year, generally falling between March and April as is based on the Christian liturgical calendar.
In Australia, as in the Western Christian tradition, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The date range for Easter in Australia is also between March 22 and April 25, ensuring that it aligns with the guidelines set by the Christian liturgical calendar.
– Good Friday is a religious holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is a public holiday across Australia, and many businesses and schools are closed for the day.
– Easter Saturday is the day before Easter Sunday and is not a public holiday in Australia. However, some businesses may be closed.
– Easter Sunday is a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ as described in the New Testament of the Bible. According to Christian teachings, Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and was buried in a tomb. On the third day, which is now Easter Sunday, he rose from the dead. It is a public holiday in most states and territories, and many Australians spend time with family and friends on this day, with many Christians going to church. For families, Easter Sunday is the day the Easter Bunny comes to deliver chocolate eggs to children while they sleep.
– Easter Monday is a public holiday in most states and territories and is a time for relaxation.
Easter often falls over the school holidays, and is a popular time for holidays away, so if you plan to travel, book accommodation well in advance.
Those who follow Christianity may attend a church service over Easter, the most common being held on Good Friday morning and Easter Sunday morning. Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church, Presbyterian and Baptist are the largest Christian denominations in Australia, and most towns have at least one church. The supermarkets will be filled with special foods to mark the occasion like hot cross buns, chocolate Easter eggs and it is traditional to eat fish on Good Friday, as well as seafood or roast lamb on Easter Sunday.
ANZAC Day – 25 April
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and this public holiday is in honour of the soldiers who have fought and died for their countries at Gallipoli during the First World War. Events are held all over Australia, the most popular being the Dawn Service which are typically held in historical spots across Australia and includes a commemorative address, laying of wreaths, observance of one minute’s silence and a march to honour lost friends and publicly express comradeship. Anzac biscuits are often baked and shared to commemorate this day.
Note that ANZAC Day is only a public holiday when it falls on a weekday. If it falls on a weekend, you do not receive a public holiday in lieu, unlike other public holidays that fall on a weekend.
King’s Birthday – Second Monday in June in NSW/ACT
We celebrate the King’s Birthday in Australia on varying dates throughout the year depending on which state you live in. This public holiday is observed because Australia is a part of the British Commonwealth, meaning the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom is also the lawful monarch of Australia.
This tradition has its roots in the historical ties between Australia and the British monarchy. The King’s Birthday Honour’s List is proclaimed in June each year and includes people who have received the Order of Australia and other special honours.
Labour Day: First Monday in October in NSW/ACT
Labour Day is an annual public holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers and has its origins in the labour union movement. Traditionally, it celebrates the arrival of the eight-hour working day, a victory for workers in the 1850s. This long weekend is scheduled for different times in different states.
Christmas Day: 25 December
Christmas Day is a religious holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a public holiday across Australia, and many Christians and non-denominational individuals attend church services, exchange gifts, and spend time with family and friends.
Christmas is celebrated in several ways in Australia, from community events where residents sing carols by candlelight in local parks, to Christmas lights on homes, which people flock to see. People, businesses and councils also put-up Christmas trees and, in shopping centres, children can visit Santa Claus or Father Christmas and tell him “what they want for Christmas” – then Santa will “come down the chimney” on Christmas eve and leave presents under the tree and in your Christmas stocking.
Families may have outdoor barbecues or eat food that fits with their tradition. Many people go to the beach, spend time with families and friends, or gather and share food. Churches also offer well-attended services in most towns and cities on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Shopping malls have huge sales, as people go crazy buying gifts for each other!
Boxing Day: 26 December
Boxing Day is the day after Christmas Day and a public holiday across Australia. It can be a time for relaxation or for participating in the Boxing Day sales, which are held by many retailers across the country as well as online. Sports fans may indulge in watching the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race starting at noon in Sydney and the Boxing Day Cricket Test beginning its five-day run.
New Year’s Eve: 31 December
Although New Year’s Eve is not considered a public holiday it is the day most Australians prepare for one of the biggest parties of the year, with most cities, towns and homes putting on celebrations to mark the end of the year and the first moments of the next. Sydney is one of the first places in the world to celebrate the new year with a huge firework display over Sydney Harbour.
For a complete list of Australian Public Holidays for your State or local area, please visit Australia.gov.au
Navitas Skilled Futures acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.