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Dominion Day centenary, 26 September 2007

Dominion Day centenary, 26 September 2007

by Keith Rankin, 5 June 2007

New Zealand needs a New Zealand Day holiday separate from Waitangi Day, as Peter Dunne has acknowledged and sought to bring about. Further, New Zealand needs a holiday in the first month of spring, when the kowhai is in flower, tui are singing, and the relative darkness of winter is over.

Actually, the whole schedule of statutory holidays needs a bit of a makeover, in recognition both of our own unique history, and of the realities of twenty-first century living.

I do not advocate any increase or decrease in the number of public holidays that we have. But I do believe that the whole statutory holiday package can be tweaked just a little, for the better of all.

My proposal is to adopt Dominion Day, 26 September, as New Zealand Day. In addition, we could delay Queens Birthday holiday for two or three weeks, and we could abolish 2 January altogether as a statutory holiday.

2007 is the centenary of New Zealand ceasing to be a colony, and becoming a fully independent nation within the British Empire. At the time the changes were more symbolic than real, because, as far as the empire was concerned, 1907 was the heyday of imperial hype.

100 years later, New Zealand is seen as one of the most independent nations in the world, willing to stand up to pressures from the likes of the United States, France, Australia and the motherland herself, the United Kingdom. Modern New Zealand is a unique, independent, multicultural society. We have much to celebrate. Dominion Day reminds us of the British side of our heritage, and of our post-British independence.

Dominion Day, as New Zealand Day, should be celebrated on the nearest Monday. That day would always be first day of the spring school holidays. For parents of school-children, it's always good to have statutory holidays during the school holidays. And it allows us to celebrate the spring equinox and the beginning of daylight saving.

My suggested trade-off is that we give up 2 January. I remain blissfully unaware exactly why 2 January is a holiday. Nevertheless it has become an integral part of our great Kiwi Christmas / New Year two-week shutdown. The problem is that the best time weatherwise for us to take a summer holiday is late January or early February.

Giving up 2 January as a holiday sends a number of key messages.

First it suggests that Christmas / New Year should become essentially a 1-week festival (indeed a summer "pohutukawa festival" whereas late September would be a spring "kowhai festival") in which whanau rather than the beach holiday becomes the predominant focus.

Second, as a 1-week festival, it would become normal for people to return to work on 2 January, generally adding to economic productivity. Some people would of course continue to take summer holidays in early January. But many more than now would choose the very end of the summer school holidays to take their major family holiday of the year; that is, when the weather is at its hottest and most stable, and when most New Zealanders have a provincial anniversary holiday. This change to kiwi culture – the separation of Christmas from the major vacation fortnight of the year – would be substantially facilitated by 2 January becoming, for most, "back-to-work-day".

We also need a proper winter festival, not just a Queens or Kings Birthday celebration on a date that neither reflects the actual birthday of the monarch, nor the date of the British celebrations.

Instead of celebrating the monarch's birthday a week earlier than Britain, we could celebrate it a week or two later, on the third or fourth Monday of June. (The fourth Monday might be best, given the timing of tertiary student exams.)

This would now become New Zealand's winter festival: close to the winter solstice, timed perfectly for the beginning of the ski season, a kind of New Zealand Christmas as Christmas was meant to be, yet still in June and able to serve as a celebration of the monarch's birthday.

Most importantly, June is Matariki, the Maori New Year. A holiday weekend towards the end of June could become New Zealand's cultural equivalent to China's "spring festival", aka Chinese New Year.

We already have Easter of course, as an autumn festival. It only takes a bit of minor tinkering with statutory holidays to make New Zealand a much more exciting place, with a special and meaningful festival for each season of the year.

2007 is the centenary of our nation's independence. When better than 2007 to make those simple yet far-reaching changes?

********

Keith Rankin (krankin @ unitec.ac.nz) teaches at the Unitec Business School

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