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.

'Straya Day and Chinese New Year, let's do it.

‘Straya Day and Chinese New Year, let’s do it.

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.

Koalas! Definitely a step up from my only previous koala sighting in Australia, one hidden in a tree in a tourist trap museum in the city center.

Koalas! Definitely a step up from my only previous koala sighting in Australia, one hidden in a tree in a tourist trap museum in the city center.

Kangaroo! Or maybe a wallaby? There were lots of each, so even if this guy's a wallaby, I did see a kangaroo as well.

Kangaroo! Or maybe a wallaby? There were lots of each, so even if this guy’s a wallaby, I did see a kangaroo as well.

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.

At least someone was okay with being festive.

At least someone was okay with being festive.

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.

Apparently, dragons climbing ladders to eat cabbage is a Chinese New Year tradition, this time played out in Paddy's produce market.

Apparently, dragons climbing ladders to eat cabbage is a Chinese New Year tradition, this time played out in Paddy’s produce market.

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 couldn't get enough of all the lit-up costumes in the parade.

I couldn’t get enough of all the lit-up costumes in the parade.

I look forward to the festivities and celebrations that lie ahead in my time in Australia!

12 Responses

  1. Nana says:

    Great post, fabulous photos and I love the song. Sounds like a great time. My friends near Sydney post the most fabulous bird photos on Facebook. Sorry you didn’t get to douse yourself in Aussie colors and wear fake tattoos. I don’t know whether that means the Australians haven’t caught up to us yet or their maturity exceeds ours! The more I read, the more I want to visit Australia. Guess it goes on my bucket list for sure. XOXO

    • Kirstie says:

      Thanks, Nana!

      Actually, some of the opposition to being ridiculously patriotic on Australia Day has to do with controversy over whether Australians can really claim 1788 was when Australia was “founded” since the Aboriginals were here long before. They also view patriotism with more skepticism than we flag-waving Americans do. I love getting festive, though!

      You definitely should pay a visit to Australia! It’s not culturally exotic like some of the places you’ve been, but it’s just a very nice country with a lot of natural beauty I have left to explore.

      Love you!

  2. history is often unfair and told mistakenly…..

    the Spanish and the Portuguese did reach Australia long before that guy James Cook or any other English….the Australians, i guess, have been brainwashed by the English speaking media to such a degree that they don’t even know the real history of their own country.

    it is similar to North America, i mean, they think of the Mayflower and those Pilgrims who landed on the east coast in 1620, they are treated mistakenly as the first European settlers in North America, even it is taught at school in the USA i guess…and the truth is that Spaniards were already in North America since the 1500’s, founding lots of Missions, exploring and reaching up to what is now Tennesse and Arkansas, naming places like Florida or California, trading and fighting the native Americans, etc all of it long before that Mayflower ever saw the coast!

    good post Kirstie as always 🙂

    • Kirstie says:

      I don’t think that anyone would argue that the English discovered Australia, as there were definitely, at the very least, Dutch explorers here before the English, and of course aboriginals long before that. I think Australians just celebrate the arrival of the English because that’s what launched the civilization that came to be modern Australia. But there is definitely some controversy over the topic.

      I see that there are a few theories about Portugal arriving in Australia, but I can’t find much information. Do you have any links where I can read more about Spain and Portugal exploring Australia? Sounds interesting. I’d be curious to read more…and maybe even do a blog post about it!

      Similarly, although we do learn about the Pilgrims, we’re definitely aware of the Spanish influence in the Americas. Particularly in California, as children, we learn a ton about the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the Americas, Father Junipero Serra’s missions, and Spanish territory becoming Mexican territory becoming American territory.

      I think Americans are very aware of the Spanish settlers, but the land that Spain settled wasn’t incorporated into the United States until much later, which is why it isn’t considered part of the “founding” of the U.S. but rather part of our later expansion. Meanwhile, we talk about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims in the context of creating the original American colonies.

      What I was surprised about, however, is how many Spaniards I talked to were shocked when I told them California and other parts of the U.S. used to belong to Spain! I’m guessing this is a period of history that isn’t highlighted as much in Spain as it is in the U.S. (at least in California), or maybe it’s just one of those tidbits people forget when they’ve been out of school for a while. I’m very curious as well about how much the topics covered in Spanish history classes have changed since Franco.

      Thanks for your interesting comments and your readership!

      • there’s evidence that the Spaniards and the Portuguese reached Australia long before the English, here are three links:




        while i do respect your opinion i must say that i disagree, i mean, so you only consider those Pilgrims of the Mayflower part of the founding of the USA, or original colonies as you call it? then you don’t consider the Spanish colonies in Florida in the 1500’s like the St. Augustine part of founding of the US, or an american colony? i am really surprised and shocked at the same time.

        any settlement in America, whether in the North or South, is an american colony by its own meaning whether the settlers speak English, Spanish or Japanese, and it really shocks me that you only consider the English.

        last but not least, did you know that Florida, Colorado and Nevada are Spanish names meaning Flowery, Red Coloured and Snowed respectively? did you know that Spanish conquistador and explorer Hernando de Soto died in what is now Arkansas in 1542? did you know that he led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States, and the first documented to have crossed the Mississippi River? yes the first European to have crossed the Mississippi river was a Spaniard, not an English speaking person as you might think.


        i like to debate with respect because it makes one hear different opinions, love it!

        • Kirstie says:

          Thanks for the links! I’ll check them out later!

          The original American Colonies are a well-defined set of 13 colonies (read about that here, so although there was Spanish land in North America at the same time, Spanish colonies were not included in the American Colonies. The Spanish land was later incorporated into the U.S. as territories and then as states.

          It’s not a matter of me “considering only the English.” It’s a matter of official definitions in history. It’s like if I were “shocked” that you consider Ceuta a ciudad autónoma rather than a comunidad autónoma or that we call Puerto Rico a U.S. territory and not a state, when that is, in fact, how they’re defined. I’m not saying Spain didn’t contribute to what is now the United States – it obviously played a huge role. All I’m saying is that we celebrate the Pilgrims in the same way that Australians celebrate the English landing in Australia: it’s the event that really kicked off our nation as a government entity (although independence from Great Britain came much later).

          I did know many of those facts, although I had forgotten a lot of the details about Hernando de Soto since I’ve been out of school for a while. We really do learn quite a lot about the history of the Spanish in the Americas in school!

          I’ve never implied anywhere that I think Spaniards had no part in founding the Americas, nor that I have any particular bias toward the English, as you suggest I do. It’s impossible to grow up in California and not be aware of Spanish-American history! Not to mention I know quite a bit about Spanish history after studying it in school and then spending three years in Spain. 🙂

          From here, we could also lead into the fact that both the English (later Americans) and the Spanish did some pretty cruel things to the natives (as well as to each other) throughout the history of the Americas, so we really shouldn’t be glorifying or taking pride in their conquest, but we can’t blame modern Spain, England, or the U.S. or any of our current citizens for the past!

        • Kirstie says:

          And I love to debate with respect and discuss history as well! Since I’m no longer in school, I don’t get it enough these days, and this is a great reminder of a lot of the fascinating history I’ve learned through the years!

          • i am fully aware of those set of colonies that were the birth of the USA…i have not denied it and everyone does know it.

            i think that the confusion between what i say and what you say arises from the fact that in the Spanish speaking world we all consider an American colony any colony or settlement in North America and South America, so Spanish colonies in modern-day California, New Mexico, Texas and Florida were American colonies as well, as American as any English or British settlement on the east coast years later.

            having said that, i am fully aware that you only consider American something that is within the USA.

            apart from that, i do know the great English or British contribution to the USA with that set of colonies and what came after that…..but Spain’s contribution to North America and the USA was also great, and it is fair to admit and recognise it.

            even the dollar in the USA was adopted from Spain, not from England as when Thomas Jefferson stated ““[t]he Spanish dollar seems to fulfill all . . . conditions” applicable to “fixing the unit of money.” “The unit, or dollar,” he wrote, “is a known coin . . . already adopted from south to north . . . Our public debt, our requisitions and their apportionments, have given it actual and long possession of the place of unit.”

            also by the American War of Independence, the Spanish dollar had become the major monetary unit of the Colonies. Not surprisingly, the Continental Congress adopted the dollar as the nation’s standard of value. On May 22, 1776, a Congressional committee reported on “the value of the several species of gold and silver coins current in these colonies, and the proportions they ought to bear to Spanish milled dollars.

            so you see that Spain’s contribution to North America and USA has been important as well, and it must be admitted and recognised, at least i shall always stand proudly to say.


            now last but not least of course, thanks for saying that my posts are interesting, and thanks for reading them! i really like your blog, it is simple but friendly and cosy at the same time, it is not loaded and looks real to me.

            ah maybe you are interested in knowing some unreal myths that are being continually reproduced and promulgated about the Spanish language in the USA, here is a link:


            • Kirstie says:

              Ah, yes, although “americano/a” in Spanish refers to anywhere in the Americas, in English, “American” typically refers to the United States. When speaking Spanish, I’m always conscious of using “estadounidense” instead of “americano,” but “American” is the one adjective used in English for people from the United States.

              Although I have no genetic Spanish heritage, perhaps my affinity for Spain is subconsciously due, in part, to Spain’s major influence in the area I grew up! I didn’t know that information about the dollar.

              In response to that last article, I’m embarrassed if other Americans (again, I use “American” the way we use it in English to refer to people from the United States) think that this is the first time Spanish is a widespread language in the U.S.! How could it be with all of our cities, streets, states, etc. in Spanish? Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio, etc. were definitely not renamed after the relatively recent Mexican immigration 🙂

              And in response to their myth #2, one of my professors in college was a linguist specializing in the dialect of U.S.-born people with native Spanish-speaking parents. It’s a pretty interesting topic. For example, because it’s necessary in English to use subject pronouns, it’s far more common for Americans with Spanish-speaking parents to overuse subject pronouns in Spanish (e.g. always saying “Yo tengo…” instead of just “Tengo…” when the “Yo” isn’t always necessary). I’m sure there are a lot more differences in regard to the accent and other bits of grammar as well!

            • Kirstie says:

              A follow-up from Wikipedia. I guess my assertion that “American” in English refers to the United States is controversial among some, although it’s still the popular use of the word:

              The meaning of the word American in the English language varies according to the historical, geographical, and political context in which it is used. American is derived from America, a term originally denoting all of the New World (also called the Americas). In some expressions it retains this Pan-American sense, but its usage has evolved over time and, for various historical reasons, the word came to denote people or things specifically from the United States of America.

              In modern English, Americans generally refers to residents of the United States; among native English speakers this usage is almost universal, with any other use of the term requiring specification. However, this default use has been the source of controversy, particularly among Latin Americans, who feel that using the term solely for the United States misappropriates it.

              The word can be used as both a noun and an adjective. In adjectival use, it is generally understood to mean “of or relating to the United States.” The noun is rarely used in American English to refer to people not connected to the United States.

              • i too use the word American to describe citizens of the USA even knowing that i am making a mistake according to what we have learnt at school…..many other times i just say US citizens because other people, even English speakers, use it too.

                because you didn’t know about the US dollar, i think that there are many other things that you are not aware of…..things about the Spaniards in North America that did contribute to the history of modern USA.

                did you know that the famous Apache warrior, Geronimo, only spoke two languages, his native language and Spanish? he didn’t speak any English, so he did communicate with the US Army in Spanish.

                the Spaniards were already since the 1500’s in modern-day Texas, Arizona, California, Florida or New Mexico…..the Spaniards were the first Europeans to trade and fight the native Americans, even they involved…..that’s why there are lots of descendants of Sioux or Apache with Spanish last names.

                and yes there are tons of differences between the Spanish spoken in the USA and European Spanish…..i can tell much about it, but it does need a new blog post!

                • Kirstie says:

                  Interesting facts!

                  And tons of differences between the Spanish in different regions of Spain and across the Americas! I’ve taken two classes on Spanish dialectology (one in the U.S. with that aforementioned professor and one in Spain), and they were fascinating!

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