Celebrating Australia: ‘Straya Day and the Lunar New Year
There are few better ways to get to know a country than celebrating its national holidays, so I’m more than pleased I’ve stuck around long enough to be here for Australia Day and a week later got to celebrate another holiday that has been adopted by Australia, the Lunar New Year.
January 26th marked Australia Day, a day that commemorates the British landing in Australia in 1788. Like America’s Fourth of July, it falls in the middle of summer, so it typically means barbecue, swimming pools, and sun. Perfect. With a day off from work (what is this crazy country that only has public holidays every few months rather than practically every other week like Spain!), I headed up to Newcastle, about two and a half hours north of here, to celebrate Australia Day in true Australian fashion.
To kick the weekend off with an ultimate Australian experience, kangaroos! Somehow, in four months in Australia, despite them supposedly being so common Aussies just find them to be a nuisance, I had not once seen a kangaroo. What kind of life had I been living? So we headed to the Blackbutt Reserve, which offers free viewing of koalas, emus, kangaroos, crazy giant lizards, silly birds, and more. Eureka! My work here is done.
Australia Day itself was spent with lots of new Australian friends, adorable Australia flag cupcakes and Australian-colored jello shots, a barbecue, lounging around the pool, and adorable puppies. Basically a perfect summer day. I had to stop myself from busting out my stars and stripes, sparklers and Lee Greenwood. I was more than prepared to deck myself out in yellow and green and cover my face in Australian flag temporary tattoos, but my friend informed me I would be promptly uninvited if I did so. Darn.
Also essential to Australia Day, as I learned, is Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown. The alternative, nation-wide radio station does a countdown each Australia Day of the top 100 songs of the previous year. We’ve got plenty of countdowns on New Year’s, Fourth of July, etc. in the U.S., but what I was not prepared for was how universally popular this countdown is. Everyone was talking about it. And everyone knew all 100 songs, probably only ten of which I had actually heard (blame having spent most of the year either traveling or commuting without a radio). Here was #1, a song by a Melbourne-born artist I’m now quite fond of:
The following weekend, I witnessed another quintessentially Sydney, albeit foreign, celebration, Chinese New Year. With almost 300,000 people of Chinese descent in Sydney’s urban area, Chinese New Year is a pretty big deal, with festivities scheduled for the three weeks surrounding the date. A Korean New Year festival was also held right outside my apartment building, with musical performances, dancers, and loads of delicious food. We later wandered into Chinatown to check out what was going on there, like dragon dances galore.
It culminated in a twilight parade that was far more grandiose than I expected, with over 100,000 people lined up to watch twinkling floats and gleeful dancers ring in the Year of the Horse. I’ve seen my fair share of parades, but this one was strikingly joyful and fun to watch.
I look forward to the festivities and celebrations that lie ahead in my time in Australia!