Explaining Anzac Day

One of the most important days on the Australian calendar is Anzac Day, which is celebrated annually on April 25. It is a significant occasion across Australia and New Zealand, with the day being a public holiday on both sides of the Tasman Sea. 

Whether you are already studying in the Land Down Under or would like to know more about the country’s culture, it is helpful to have an understanding of what Anzac Day is and why it is so important to Australians and New Zealanders. 

What is Anzac Day? 

Anzac Day is a day of commemoration that marks the first major military battle fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. 

What does ‘Anzac’ mean? 

Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The Australian and New Zealand forces were gifted this nickname during World War I, and soldiers take great pride in bearing the Anzac name to this day. 

Why is Anzac Day so significant in Australia and New Zealand? 

It commemorates the sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand military personnel who have died during war. Anzac Day originally commemorated the Australian and New Zealand forces that landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey on 25 April 1915 during the First World War. They were part of the allied mission to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), which was the capital of one of Germany’s major allies, the Ottoman Empire. 

Gallipoli was expected to be a quick military campaign, yet it became a long battle that was characterised by mass casualties on both sides. The bravery of both the Australian and New Zealand forces during this campaign left a profound legacy that is still commemorated to this day.   

How is Anzac Day celebrated? 

Anzac Day is a public holiday across Australia and New Zealand, so most workers and students get the day off. Some retail centres do trade, but they often don’t open their doors until 1pm. 

One of the most popular ways to celebrate Anzac Day is waking up early to attend a dawn service in your local suburb, city or town. These memorial services are held at dawn to commemorate the time at which Australian and New Zealand forces originally landed at Gallipoli. They then finish with marches that feature current servicemen and servicewomen, former soldiers and their relatives. 

Larger ceremonies are held at war memorials around both countries, and are often broadcasted on television and radio channels. 

What else do I need to know about Anzac Day? 

There are some important symbols that Australians and New Zealanders use to commemorate Anzac Day and war folklore in general. The red poppy, which was one of the first flowers to bloom in the French and Belgian battlefields after World War I, is often correlated with Remembrance Day (another day of military commemoration celebrated in Australia), but over time it has become an increasingly popular symbol of Anzac Day.

The slouch hat, which has evolved from standardised military uniform to a widely recognised national symbol, is also used to observe Anzac Day. This hat, which is made of khaki felt, is generally worn ceremonially in the traditional custom of ‘brim up, with chinstrap buckle to the left’. 

Dawn and memorial services include a rendition of The Last Post’ on the bugle, which is a small brass instrument. This call signified the end of the day’s activities during the war, and it is now played during military funerals and commemorations as a final farewell to fallen soldiers. 

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