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Anzac Day – Lest We Forget

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

From Laurence Binyon’s poem, For the Fallen (1914)

Today, April 25, is Anzac Day – a public holiday in New Zealand and Australia that commemorates those from the two countries who were killed in wars, as well as honoring returned servicemen and women.  April 25 is significant as it is the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli by the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (i.e., “the Anzacs”) in 1915 during World War I.

April 25 was officially named Anzac Day in 1916, and became a national public holiday in 1921 in New Zealand.  In Australia, every state and territory observed a public holiday for the first time on April 25, 1927.  In  New Zealand, the holiday is not “Mondayised” – it is only observed on April 25, and there is no extra day off if that date falls on a weekend – and there remain trading restrictions on shops until 1 pm.  In Australia, while the ceremonies and events take place on April 25, most states and territories provide a substitute day off on the Monday if Anzac Day falls on a Sunday.

The traditions relating to the observance of Anzac Day are largely the same in the two countries.  Each town (or suburb) and city will hold a dawn service at their war memorial – the Anzacs landed in Gallipoli at dawn, and following the war they sought the comradeship felt in the peace before dawn.  The service may involve readings, hymns and prayers, an address, playing of the national anthem, and the laying of wreaths at war memorials.  But no matter where the service is held, “The Last Post” will be played by a lone bugler, and there will be a period of silence, followed by the playing of “Reveille”.  In many places there will also be a parade during the day, involving veterans, police, fire brigades, and other uniformed community organizations.

Red poppy distributed by the New Zealand Returned and Services' Association for Anzac Day 2011

Other traditions related to Anzac Day are the wearing of red poppies (in New Zealand) and sprigs of rosemary (in Australia).  The red poppies signify those that grew in Belgium and France in the fields where soldiers were buried, while rosemary has long been a symbol of memory and remembrance.

Anzac Biscuits (Photo - and baking - by the author)

Anzac Biscuits (these would be classed as “cookies” in the U.S.) are a shared tradition between Australia and New Zealand.  (“Shared” of course means that each country claims to have invented them, much like pavlova.)  These are simple (but delicious) biscuits, with ingredients that include rolled oats and golden syrup.  They are similar to those made for the troops during the war – without eggs, since these were scarce.  Interestingly, while the term “Anzac” is protected by law in both Australia and New Zealand, in Australia there is a specific exception available for its use in the context of Anzac Biscuits – as long as they remain basically true to the original recipe and are never called “cookies” (as this has “non-Australian overtones”).

Anzac Day is observed by Australians and New Zealanders all over the world.  There are services and other events in London, Moscow, Thailand, Ireland, at Anzac Cove in Turkey, throughout Canada and the U.S., including here in Washington, DC, and in many other places.

I’ve previously written about experiencing American holidays in New Zealand – Thanksgiving in particular.  But now that I live in the U.S. I’m on the flip side of experiencing New Zealand holidays here.  Last Anzac Day I went to the “Gunfire Breakfast” at the New Zealand Embassy, and this year I made it down to the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall for the dawn service (i.e., at 5:45 am), where wreaths of remembrance were laid by representatives from different governments and organizations.  I’m now wearing my red poppy.  Over the weekend I even baked Anzac Biscuits!

Wreaths at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington DC, Anzac Day 2011

Anzac Day is a solemn day of remembrance, and also one of great unity felt by New Zealanders and Australians everywhere…until we try to beat each other in the Anzac Test, of course! (Note – there’s no exception that allows the term Anzac to be used for this particular rugby league match; it’s just what everyone calls it.)

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