It's Australia Day, sparks are likely to fly, and not just from the fireworks and the traditional barbecues that mark the occasion. Here it's a day of strong passions, but how do other nations celebrate their national days? Mostly they commemorate the foundation of a nation, but also liberation or independence, such as Bastille Day in France, Republic Day in India (also on January 26) or Fiestas Patrias in Chile and Peru.
Waitangi Day, New Zealand
Musical group Moana and the Tribe perform at Waitangi Day celebrations in 2019. Photo: Getty Images
A national holiday celebrated on February 6, Waitangi Day marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 between representatives of the British Crown and some 45 Maori chiefs. Signed at Treaty House, the home of the British representative in the Bay of Islands, the British intended the treaty as a lever to enshrine their authority over the chiefs and establish their claim to sovereign rights. Many of the chiefs did not see it quite the same way, and the signing of the treaty was quickly followed by the Northern War, a bloody revolt. For many Maori, the treaty is now seen as a means to dud them of their lands, rivers and seas, although there is little pressure to replace Waitangi Day as a national celebration.
National Foundation Day, Japan
Not many countries can boast a national day that dates back to February 11, 660 BC, but then both the date and the very existence of the Emperor Jimmu, the country's first emperor, who supposedly ascended to the throne on that day, are doubtful. The Japanese prime minister traditionally makes a speech but overall it's a low-key affair, devoid of the temple visits and special food items with which the Japanese mark their most cherished occasions. One exception is Tokyo's Meiji Jingu Shrine, where Shinto worshippers in traditional dress parade with portable shrines. Another is the Kashihara Shrine in Nara Prefecture where far-right nationalists gather to pay respects at what is revered as the location of Emperor Jimmu's tomb.
Columbus Day, US
Spectators wave Italian flags during the 75th annual Columbus Day Parade in New York. Photo: Getty Images
Celebrated on the second Monday in October, Columbus Day, originally in remembrance of the arrival of Christopher Columbus on the shores of the Americas, now rubs shoulders with a day that celebrates the country's Native American peoples. On the same October Monday, about a dozen states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day, honouring Native Americans. Vastly overshadowed by Independence Day, July 4, as the country's national day, and coming close to Thanksgiving, Columbus Day is now less about the first European known to have visited the Americas and more a celebration of Italian-American pride. States and cities with large populations descended from Italian immigrants such as New York City and San Francisco are more likely to observe the day. In 2020, the traditional parade through the streets of New York City was abandoned, without too much heartache.
Freedom Day, South Africa
April 27, 1994 was the first day of non-racial elections in South Africa, the first day on which all non-white citizens over 18 were allowed a say in who governed their country. Predictably, the African National Congress swept to a crushing victory and the apartheid era was put to rest. It's a day of family get-togethers, typically over a braai, a South African barbecue.
National Day, China
On October 1, China commemorates the founding of the People's Republic of China on that day in 1949. The Kuomintang armies under general Chiang Kai-shek had been routed and dispatched to Taiwan, Chairman Mao Zedong formally declared the republic on that day and a ceremony celebrating the formation of the Central People's Government took place in Tiananmen Square. Festivities include fireworks and concerts in the capital with the focus on Tiananmen Square, but big military parades only take place once every decade.
National Independence Day, Poland
On November 11 Poland celebrates its freedom, not from the more recent yoke of communism but the reunification of the country in 1918, following the 18th century dismemberment of Poland by Austria-Hungary, Russia and Germany. After World War II the communist party, acting on the dictates of the USSR, scrubbed the Independence Day celebration from the calendar, to be reinstated in 1989 when Poland finally flushed communism out the door. Centrepiece of the celebrations is Warsaw's Pilsudski Square. Other eastern European countries including the Czech Republic and Romania also celebrate national days that originate from 1918, marking their own day of deliverance.
St Patrick's Day, Ireland
Revellers attend the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Dublin in 2019. Photo: Getty Images
Dress up in green, dye your hair, paint your face, join a parade dressed as a leprechaun and drink lots and lots of green ale – you have to hand it to the Irish, March 17, St Patrick's Day, is a day of rollicking good fun. To be fair though, it's only in the past couple of decades that St Patrick's Day has come home to Ireland. For far longer it's been a day for expats who trace their ancestral roots to the Emerald Isle to remember their ancestors, especially where they form significant minorities such as in the US and Australia. It's also one of the few days when publicans are thankful for saintly influence.
Canada Day, Canada
People celebrate Canada Day in Toronto. Photo: Getty Images
Held on July 1, Canada Day celebrates the birth of the nation, when the separate colonies of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were united. Although the anniversary passed with little ceremony for many years following the unification which occurred in 1867, today's Canada Day is marked by carnivals, parades, outdoor performances, barbecues and, for the same reasons as Australia Day, controversy. For the indigenous people it brings back memories of stolen land and stolen generations, forced assimilation, the systematic destruction of cultures and languages and the shadow of ethnic cleansing.