Whether celebrating a sporting event that no-one else cares about, commemorating a slice of history that happened elsewhere or offering an excuse to tuck into some darned good fruit, the world offers up some rather strange public holidays. Some are a basic excuse for a party, others rather more solemn, but here are ten of the weirdest.
AFL Grand Final Eve
The 2019 AFL Grand Final crowd. Photo: Getty Images
When Victoria declared a public holiday in 2015, a few eyebrows were raised. The AFL Grand Final may be one of Australia’s biggest sporting occasions, but does the state really need a public holiday on the Friday before to get everyone prepared for it? Either way, the good people of Victoria were happy to go along with it, if only as an opportunity to go out on the Thursday night and not worry all that much about alcohol consumption levels.
Melbourne Cup Day
Melbourne Cup day at Flemington racecourse in 2021. Photo: Joe Armao
Of course, Victoria has previous form for dubious sporting public holidays. The holiday on the day of the Melbourne Cup was originally designed to honour the Prince of Wales’ birthday. But in 1875, the Melbourne Cup was shifted to from a Thursday to Tuesday in order to coincide. It proved popular, and Victorians soon decided they cared more about the horses than the prince. It was only in 1993, however, that the first Tuesday of November was permanently enshrined in state law as a public holiday.
Royal Hobart Regatta Day
Let’s not assume it’s just the Victorians who declare public holidays for parochial sporting events, though. The Tasmanians are at it, too. Big chunks of Tasmania take the second Monday of February off to celebrate the Royal Hobart Regatta.
Well, in theory, anyway. Practically nobody cares about the yachting – it’s just an excuse for an extra day off work.
Dragon Boat Festival Day
Where? Hong Kong
Days off for niche sports isn’t just an Australian thing, either. Hong Kong takes one day off for the Dragon Boat Festival. This takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese calendar, which is generally around May or June.
It starts to make more sense when you realise there’s a long-standing Chinese tradition of warding off bad luck on this day. The dragon boat races came much later – but became such a focal point that the public holiday took their name.
Turkmenistan is a prodigious producer of musk melons. And, in 1993, it was decided that this must be celebrated. So, a public holiday was declared, and it has been held on the second Sunday of every August since. The date was picked because that’s around the time the favoured varietal of melon ripens.
Capital city Ashgabat is the best place to celebrate Melon Day, with plenty of open-air tasting sessions. Hmm, juicy…
A holiday celebrating a flag might seem a bit weird, but Argentina’s flag is seen as a symbol of independence. It was first raised on February 27, 1812, but the national holiday takes place on June 20. That’s because the creator of the flag, Manuel Belgrano died on that date in 1820.
The biggest celebrations take place in the city of Rosario, where the flag was initially raised.
Where? South Korea
Hangul Day celebrates the invention of the Korean alphabet. This alphabet is rare in that there is historic record of exactly when it was introduced – back in the 15th century, courtesy of King Sejong the Great.
When the Korean government tried to remove the holiday from the calendar there was enough public uproar to ensure it was reinstated in 2013.
Day of Silence
The streets in Jimbaran are quiet on The Day of Silence. Photo: Getty Images
The Day of Silence, or Nyepi, is designed as a day of self-reflection, and anything that would get in the way of that reflection is restricted. That means entertainment, working, travelling and even going to the beach are out. Tourists are expected to stick to the rules, which essentially means they’re confined to their hotel for the day.
The dates change according to the Balinese calendar, but it takes place in March.
A United States federal holiday, Columbus Day celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. The strange part is that Columbus, a Genoese explorer sponsored by the Spanish Crown, never set foot in what is now the US. The first landing in the Americas was in the Bahamas.
What’s more, the US rarely celebrates Columbus Day on the actual anniversary. It should be October 12, but the public holiday has been assigned to the second Monday in October.
Oil Nationalisation Day
Many countries have pretty dry-sounding public holidays based around centuries-old battles, but Iran goes one step further, giving a day off for the anniversary of the nationalisation of the country’s oil industry.
Don’t expect too many carnival parades for this one. The exact date is based on the Solar Hijri calendar, but tends to fall in mid-to-late March.