It’s going to be a festive long weekend Down Under in preparation for for Australia Day, the annual celebration of that nation that falls on Jan. 26. The official national day is usually accompanied by parades and events around the country, and embassies around the world are expected to do their part to help their citizens abroad feel closer to home, as well.
The holiday marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first British ship at Port Jackson, also known as Sydney Harbor, in New South Wales in 1788. While Australia Day has been celebrated as far back as 1808, it was not until 1826 that the word “Australia” came into common use to describe the country, according to the official Australia Day website. “Australia Day” became an accepted term by all states and territories in 1935, and became a public holiday observed by all in 1994.
These days, while Australia Day celebrations still commemorate the nation’s beginnings, they also have come to celebrate the diversity of the population, including citizenship ceremonies welcoming new immigrants. However, some Australians decry “Australia Day” as an observance of British imperialism, calling it “Invasion Day” instead, and protests have occurred yearly on that day.
Since 1979, Australia Day in the country has been organized by the non-profit organization National Australia Day Council, and falls under the Prime Minister’s portfolio. The council is responsible for coordinating with committees across all Australian states to organize celebrations for the event.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was also prepared to observe the holiday. "It is my pleasure to send the United States’ best wishes to the people of Australia as you celebrate Australia Day," Kerry wrote in a statement that offered a different type of historical context for the holiday. "2015 is a significant year in the history of our countries: it marks the 10th anniversary of the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Australia diplomatic relations," the statement continued. "I wish all Australians the very best on this Australia Day, and continued success throughout the coming year."
Celebrations for the holiday this year have already started with barbecues and fireworks – a mainstay. Many cities across Australia hold parades on the day itself, as well, and more than half of the country’s 21 million people attend these events.
“Australia Day” began trending on Friday, with many brands and companies mentioning the phrase and offering deals. The Australia Day organization has also been spearheading coverage of various Australia Day events with its Twitter account.
— Australia Day (@OzDay) January 23, 2015
While Australians living abroad might not get to enjoy a day off on Australia Day – unless they work in Australian embassies, which are closed in observance of the holiday – they can still join in the festivities with a host of planned events. The U.S. Australian embassy has organized a party; G’DAY USA, an Australian diplomacy program in the United States has barbecues, cricket, and dinners lined up across the country; and Australian Nexus, an online hub for Australians in the United Kingdom, has barbecues and art shows, among other events, lined up.