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Hamish McKenzie - reveller, London, Ontario

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Not just a holiday

Fate dragged me to Ottawa in the weekend. (Fate and a rental car.) It's Canada's capital city, and, as I had been told repeatedly by classmates, a great place to celebrate Canada Day.

It was.

Canada's national day is actually a major day of celebration in Ottawa. People care about it. Thousands pour onto the streets, wearing red and white, sporting tacky temporary tattoos of the maple leaf. They wear big stupid Canada hats and drunken goofy grins and wave paper flags. People shout "Happy Canada Day!" and mean it. Musicians, actors, and artists perform on the streets. The Prime Minister makes a speech on Parliament Hill. Major stage performances from pop stars in the evening are followed by a massive fireworks display.

It's all very feel good. Almost sickeningly positive. But so much fun, and just a little uplifting. I joined in the revelry, wore a little maple leaf sticker on my t-shirt, and got drunk.

Inevitably, I found myself thinking, what does New Zealand have like this? When do we have a day to celebrate the good things about our country? After all, we've got just as much to celebrate as Canada does.

In the lead-up to the election, it's easy to forget that the sky isn't collapsing in on New Zealand. No, we don't have substantial income tax cuts, and we don't have a top-notch health system, but we do have a relatively peaceful, successful nation. We're not in the habit of helping in unnecessary wars, despite bullying from the US; we are, on the whole, tolerant and welcoming of a multicultural society, despite the Winston Peterses amongst us; and we're pretty good at chasing balls round paddocks and courts, despite our small population. Those are three pretty good reasons to be a little bit proud of who we are, even just for one day in the year. There is more to celebrate, of course, but this is a blog, not an essay.

As it is, we're often led to believe we're not good enough for some countries, or that we're not as good as Australia in, well, just about anything. It seems too often the emphasis is more on bemoaning our shortcomings than acknowledging what we're good at. There's no day, like Canada Day, Australia Day, or Independence Day, where we can really let loose with unabated enthusiasm for our nation.

What do we have? Well, Waitangi Day is the closest thing we have to a national day. That day is rightfully one of mixed feelings. Certainly, it is a time to recognise the forging of a unique relationship between colonisers and an indigenous people (one thing we were better at than the Canadians, the Americans, and the Australians), but it's also a time to recognise that many of those promises signed into the treaty were renegged upon. So, no dancing in the streets on that one.

ANZAC Day? That's one time when we can be proud to be New Zealanders (the atrocities of war aside, our soldiers conducted themselves with valour and courage), and it does in one way mark our coming-of-age. But ANZAC Day is a time for mournful reflection, a time to respect great losses, past differences, and selfless sacrifice. No dancing on the streets for that one.

Labour Day? Nope.

Any reason to party is a good one -- but it would be nice to have a day to remind ourselves there are some things we do right. But which day? The best I can think of is the day New Zealand, as we know it now, got true independence: November 25, 1947, the day we came out from under Britain's watch.

It's a good date for several reasons:

1. The weather would be warm, so it's a nice time to visit the park for a picnic.
2. It's a month out from Christmas, so gives workers a day off at a stressful time of year.
3. There are no public holidays in November (excluding anniversary days for Canterbury, Marlborough, and the Chatam Islands).
4. It marks the day when New Zealand became a fully-fledged independent nation, reliant on its own steam, rather than economic support from the Mother Country.

While I can't envisage something on Ottawa's scale, Wellington could definitely put on a decent show (see: the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King world premier), perhaps centred around Te Papa, which is one fine example of a celebration of New Zealandness. I'm sure we could match Canada for self-pride, street noisiness, and drunkenness. And I'm sure we could get used to the idea of having an extra day off.

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In the meantime, on an entirely unrelated matter, if you'd like to read some interesting distanced analysis of the state of our economy, let me point you to this Economist article.