Western Culture

Learning Materials for Students

Public Holidays

Public Holidays in Western Countries

Here is a list of public holidays observed in Australia. In addition, there are a number of regional public holidays such as Melbourne Cup day - it is a public holiday only in the Melbourne metropolitan region.



 1 January

 New Year's Day

 26 January

 Australia Day


 Good Friday


 Easter Saturday (except VIC and WA)


 Easter Monday

 25 April

 Anzac Day

 First Monday on or after 9 June

 Queen's Birthday (except WA)

 25 December

 Christmas Day

 26 December

 Boxing Day (except SA)


Melbourne Cup

Melbourne Cup is Australia's major annual horse race. "The race that stops a nation", as it has been called, is for three-year-olds and over, and covers a distance of 3,200 metres. The race has been held on the first Tuesday in November since 1861 in Melbourne, Australia. The race is held at Flemington Racecourse by the Victoria Racing Club. It is run as a "weight-for-age handicap", in which the weight of the jockey, and riding gear is adjusted with ballast to a nominated figure. Older horses are given more weight than younger ones, and weightings are further adjusted according to the horse's previous results.

In the past, such weightings were performed to theoretically give each horse an equal chance of winning the cup, but in recent years the rules have been adjusted to that of a "quality handicap" where superior horses are given less severe weight penalties than would be the case under pure handicap rules. It is generally regarded as the most prestigious "two-mile" (the race was originally held over a distance of two miles, which is approximately 3,218 metres) handicap in the world. It is one of the most popular spectator events in Melbourne, with over 110,000 people, some dressed in traditional formal raceday wear and others in all manner of exotic and amusing costumes, attending the race.

New Year's Day

New Year's Day is the first day of the year, in the Gregorian calendar. In modern times, it is January 1. In most countries, it is a holiday. It is still celebrated as a holy day on January 14 by those who still follow the Julian calendar such as followers of some of the Eastern Orthodox churches known as Old Calendarists.

January 1 marks the end of a period of remembrance of the passing year, especially on radio, television, and in newspapers, which usually starts right after Christmas Day. Publications often have year-end articles that review the changes during the past year. Common topics include politics, natural disasters, music and the arts, and the listing of significant individuals who died during the past year. Often there are also articles on planned or expected changes in the coming year, such as the description of new laws that often take effect on January 1st.

Australia Day

Australia Day is Australia's official national day, January 26. It commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove on that day in 1788.

Australia Day is a national public holiday. For some years the holiday was held on the closest Monday, to provide a long weekend. It is now held on the actual anniversary, however should this happen to fall on a weekend, a public holiday is still held on the following Monday.

Many Australians are indifferent to the celebrations and treat the day as just another holiday. The celebrations arouse dislike in others; some comment on how the arrival of the British to Australia affected the Aboriginal people of the country and some term Australia Day "Invasion Day," regarding it as celebrating Aboriginal subjugation. In recent years, acknowledging the unlikelihood of changing the day to "Invasion Day," some Aboriginal people have also celebrated the day as "Survival Day," thankful that their ancestors were not completely wiped out by the heavily armed marauders.

Some have suggested making ANZAC Day Australia's national day, or changing to January 1, commemorating 1 January 1901 when Australia's six colonies federated into one nation. Each of the alternatives raised also pose problems — ANZAC Day because many war veterans believe that it is their day, and that it is also a public holiday in New Zealand, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga, while 1 January is already a public holiday and is in the middle of the Christmas holiday season.

Good Friday

Good Friday is a holy day celebrated by Christians on the Friday before Easter. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. Special prayer services are often held on this day with readings from the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to the crucifixion.

Easter Monday

Easter Monday is a Christian holiday celebrated the next day after Easter Sunday. Formerly, it was celebrated as Easter Week, but was reduced to a one day celebration in the 19th century. Celebration events include egg rolling competitions and dousing other people with water which, at one time, was holy water used to bless the house and food.


Australia and New Zealand commemorate the ANZAC Day public holiday on the 25th of April every year to honour the bravery and sacrifice of the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and of all those who served their country. ANZAC Day is also a public holiday in Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.


The Anzac tradition began during World War I with a landing in 1915 at Gallipoli on the Turkish Aegean coast. Because of a navigational error, the Anzacs came ashore about a mile north of the intended landing point. Instead of facing the expected beach and gentle slope they found themselves at the bottom of steep cliffs, offering the few Turkish defenders an ideal defensive position. Establishing a foothold, the Anzacs found an advance to be impossible.

Although numerically the Anzacs were a minority of the half-million Allied men who served at Gallipoli, the troops from the two young nations were often at the vanguard and became renowned for their doggedness despite what the British regarded as a lack of discipline. A full 10% of the New Zealand population (then just under 1 million) served overseas during World War I, and New Zealand had the highest casualty and death rate per capita of any country involved in the war. Australia had the highest casualty rate of any military involved in the war.

On April 30 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held. The following year a public holiday was gazetted on 5 April and services to commemorate were organised by the returned servicemen.

From 1916 onwards, in both Australia and New Zealand, Anzac services were held on or about April 25, mainly organised by returned servicemen and school children in cooperation with local authorities.

ANZAC Day was not gazetted as a public holiday in New Zealand until 1921 after lobbying by the RSA. In Australia, at the 1921 state premiers conference it was decided that ANZAC Day be observed on the 25 April each year. However it was not observed uniformly in all the states.

Queen's Birthday

The Queen's Birthday or Queen's Official Birthday is celebrated as a public holiday in several Commonwealth countries (usually Commonwealth realms).

It is also celebrated in Fiji, now a republic. The exact date celebrated varies from country to country, and is usually not the current Queen's actual birthday, April 21. When the reigning British monarch is a King, then it is known as the King's Birthday or King's Official Birthday.

In the United Kingdom, the day is now the second Saturday in June. Although not a bank holiday (as it not a working day), Civil Servants are given a "privilege day" at this time of year, which is merged with the late-May bank holiday to create a long weekend.

In other Commonwealth Realms it is sometimes a public holiday.


Christmas (literally, the Mass of Christ) is a holiday in the Christian calendar, usually observed on December 25, which celebrates the birth of Jesus. According to the Christian gospels, Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem.

In predominantly Christian countries, Christmas has become the most economically significant holiday of the year, and it is also celebrated as a secular holiday in many countries with small Christian populations. It is largely characterized by exchanging gifts within families, and by gifts brought by Santa Claus or other mythical figures. Local and regional Christmas traditions are still rich and varied, despite the widespread influence of American and British Christmas motifs through literature, television, and other media.

"Christmas" is a contraction of "Christ's Mass", derived from the Old English Cristes mæsse. It is often abbreviated Xmas, possibly because the letter X resembles the Greek letter Χ (Chi), which is the first letter of "Christ" as spelled in Greek (Χριστός [Christos]).

An enormous number of customs, with either secular, religious, or national aspects, surround Christmas, and vary from country to country. Most of the familiar traditional practices and symbols of Christmas are the Christmas tree, and the giving of presents. The Christmas tree is believed to have first been used in Germany.

After the Russian Revolution, Christmas celebrations were banned in the Soviet Union for the next seventy-five years.

Since the customs of Christmas celebration largely evolved in Northern Europe, many are associated with the Northern Hemisphere winter, whose motifs are prominent in Christmas decorations and in the Santa Claus myth. Gift-giving is a near-universal part of Christmas celebrations.

In many countries, children leave empty containers for Santa to fill with small gifts such as toys, candy, or fruit. In the United States, children hang a Christmas stocking by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, because Santa is said to come down the chimney the night before Christmas to fill them. In other countries, children place their empty shoes out for Santa to fill on the night before Christmas, or for Saint Nicholas on December 5. Gift giving is not restricted to these special gift-bringers, as family members and friends also bestow gifts on each other.

Christmas cards are extremely popular in the United States and Europe, in part as a way to maintain relationships with distant relatives and friends, and with business acquaintances. Many families enclose an annual family photograph, or a family newsletter telling activities of family members during the preceding year.

Decorating a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments, and the decoration of the interior of the home with garlands and evergreen foliage are common traditions. In North and South America and to a lesser extent Europe, it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights, snowmen, and other Christmas figures.

Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well, hanging Christmas banners from street lights or placing Christmas trees in the town square.

In many countries, businesses, schools, and communities have Christmas parties and dances during the several weeks before Christmas Day. Christmas pageants, common in Latin America, may include a retelling of the story of the birth of Christ. Groups may go carolling, visiting neighborhood homes to sing Christmas songs. Others are reminded by the holiday of man's fellowship with man, and do volunteer work, or hold fundraising drives for charities.

On Christmas Day or on Christmas Eve, a special meal of Christmas dishes is usually served, for which there are traditional menus in each country. In some regions, particularly in Eastern Europe, these family feasts are preceded by a period of fasting. Candy and treats are also part of the Christmas celebration in many countries.

In Commonwealth countries in the southern hemisphere, Christmas occurs at the height of their summer season. This clashes with the traditional winter iconography, and leads to such oddities as Santas arriving by surfboard to awaiting crowds on Australia's Bondi Beach.

Carols by Candlelight started in Melbourne in 1938 and spread around the world. People gather outdoors to sing carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve or another evening shortly before Christmas.


Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a public holiday observed in many Commonwealth countries on 26 December. In many European countries it is also a holiday, called the Second Day of Christmas.

There is much dispute over the true origins of Boxing Day, but one common story of the holiday's origins is that servants used to receive Christmas gifts from their employers on the first weekday after Christmas, the day after the family celebrations. These were generally called their Christmas boxes. Another story is that this is the day that priests broke open the collection boxes and distributed the money to the poor.

Boxing Day in the UK is traditionally a day of sport, usually football and horseracing.

Boxing Day has become so important for retailers that they often extend it into a Boxing Week. This occurs similarly in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, the cricket test match starting on December 26 is called the Boxing Day Test Match, and is played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground before the largest crowd of the summer. In Sydney, the annual Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, one of the biggest and most prestigious ocean racing events in the world, begins on this day, as the yachts depart Sydney Harbour before many thousands of spectators around the harbour and in spectator boats.

In South Africa the 26th is also observed as a public holiday. Although officially the day is known as the Day of Goodwill, it is also often referred to as Boxing Day by local English speakers. It is common for a cricket test match, played against a visiting international team, to start on this day.


Halloween is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31, usually by children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door collecting candy. It is celebrated in much of the Western world, though most commonly in the United States, Ireland, Scotland and Canada.

The form "Halloween" derives from Hallowe'en, an old contraction, still retained in Scotland, of "All Hallow's Eve," so called as it is the day before the Catholic All Saints holy day, which used to be called "All Hallows," derived from All Hallowed Souls. In Ireland, the name was Hallow Eve and this name is still used by some older people. Halloween was formerly also sometimes called All Saints' Eve. The holiday was a day of religious festivities in various northern European pagan traditions, until it was appropriated by Christian missionaries (along with Christmas and Easter, two other traditional northern European pagan holidays) and given a Christian reinterpretation. Halloween is also known as the Day of the Dead.

In Great Britain in particular, the pagan Celts celebrated the Day of the Dead on Halloween. The spirits supposedly rose from the dead and, in order to attract them, food was left on the doors. To scare off the evil spirits, the Celts wore masks. When the Romans invaded the Britain, they embellished the tradition with their own, which is the celebration of the harvest and honoring the dead. These traditions were then passed on to the United States.

Halloween's theme is spooky or scary things particularly involving death, black magic, or mythical monsters. Commonly-associated Halloween characters include ghosts, witches, bats, black cats, goblins, zombies and demons, as well as certain fictional figures like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster. Homes are often decorated with these symbols around Halloween.

Black and orange are the traditional colors of Halloween. There are also elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins and scarecrows, reflected in symbols of Halloween.

You can find more interesting information about Halloween origins and Australian customs in the following website: http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com/halloween.html.


American Culture

As the United States is an immense country, with many residents and citizens being descended from relatively recent immigrants, defining a common set of customs, traditions, behavior and way of life is difficult. Unlike many Old World nation-states, the United States does not have a homogenous population or a traditional homeland.

However, American culture can be interpreted as being largely based on Western culture and English culture, with influences from the native peoples, Africans brought to the U.S. as slaves, and to a lesser extent other more recent immigrants from Asia and elsewhere. Additionally, due to its large size and the value placed on individualism, there are many integrated but unique subcultures within the U.S.

Americans can be ethnocentric, with little interest in the culture of other countries. For example, very few books from European countries or Japan are translated for sale in the United States and sales of those that are translated are slow. Imported television shows are rare. Imported films are generally less successful than domestic productions.

Americans also tend to travel abroad less than citizens of other countries, partly due to the fact that it entails traveling much further than it would for a European. This stereotype of ethnocentricity does not apply to all Americans, however. Large American businesses and their executives are generally quite knowledgeable and sophisticated about other countries.

Federal holidays in the USA




January 1

New Year's Day

celebrates beginning of year, marks traditional end of "holiday season"

January, third Monday

Martin Luther King Day

honors Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights leader; combined with other holidays in several states (traditionally January 15)

January 20, every fourth year, following Presidential election

Inauguration Day

Observed only by federal government employees Washington D.C., and the near counties of Maryland and Virginia. Swearing-in of President of the United States and other elected federal officials. Celebrated every fourth year. Note: Takes place on January 21 if the 20th is a Sunday (although the President is still privately inaugurated on the 20th).

February, third Monday

Washington's Birthday, or Presidents' Day

honors Washington, but also Lincoln and other past American Presidents as "Presidents' Day." (traditionally February 22)

May, last Monday

Memorial Day

honors service men and women who died in military service, marks traditional beginning of summer. (traditionally May 30)

July 4

Independence Day

celebrates Declaration of Independence, usually called the Fourth of July.

September, first Monday after the first Sunday

Labor Day

celebrate achievements of workers, marks traditional end of summer.

October, second Monday

Columbus Day

honors Christopher Columbus, traditional discover of the Americas. In some areas it is also a celebration of Italian culture and heritage. (traditionally October 12)

November 11

Veterans Day

honors all veterans of the United States armed forces. A traditional observation is a moment of silence at 11 AM remembering those who fought for peace.

November, fourth Thursday


a day to give thanks for autumn harvest, marks traditional beginning of "holiday season."

December 25


celebrates the nativity of Jesus, also celebrated as secular winter holiday.


Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in much of North America, generally observed as an expression of gratitude, usually to God. The most common view of its origin is that it was to give thanks to God for the bounty of the autumn harvest. In the United States, the holiday is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, where the harvest generally ends earlier in the year, the holiday is celebrated on the second Monday in October, which is observed as Columbus Day or protested as Indigenous Peoples Day in the United States.Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated with a feast shared among friends and family. In the United States, it is an important family holiday, and people often travel across the country to be with family members for the holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday is generally a "four-day" weekend in the United States, in which Americans are given the relevant Thursday and Friday off. Thanksgiving is almost entirely celebrated at home.

The centerpiece of contemporary Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada is a large meal in the late afternoon or evening, starring a large roasted turkey. Because turkey is the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner, thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called Turkey Day. It is estimated that 269 million turkeys were raised in the country in 2003, about one-sixth of which were destined for a Thanksgiving dinner plate.

Many other foods are served alongside the turkey—so many that, because of the amount of food, the Thanksgiving meal is generally served midday or early afternoon to make time for all the eating, and preparation may begin at the crack of dawn or days before.

In certain parts of the USA, the name for Thanksgiving can be shortened or changed. These nicknames include:

Turkey Day (after the traditional Thanksgiving dinner)

T-Day (abbreviation of either "Thanksgiving" or "Turkey")

Macy's Day (exclusive to New York City, a reference to the parade, above, as in "Macy's Day Parade" instead of the proper "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade")

Martin Luther King Day is a United States holiday honoring the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King observed on the third Monday of January each year.

The holiday was the result of a large-scale campaign headed by a number of activists. On January 18, 1993, for the first time, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states. The day is marked by demonstrations for peace, social justice and racial and class equality, as well as a national day of volunteer community service.

Independence Day, also called the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

It is commonly associated with parades, barbecues, picnics and various public celebratory events. Fireworks have been associated with the Fourth of July since 1777.

Presidents' Day, officially known as Washington's Birthday, is a national holiday in the United States of America celebrated on the third Monday of February. It is a combination of two previous holidays, Lincoln's Birthday (February 12) and Washington's Birthday (February 22).

In American schools the days leading up to Presidents' Day are often used to educate students on the history of the Presidents of the United States, especially former Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

St. Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day falls on February 14, and is the traditional day on which lovers in certain cultures let each other know about their love, commonly by sending Valentine's cards, which are often anonymous. The history of Valentine's day can be traced back to an obscure Catholic Church feast day, said to be in honor of Saint Valentine. The day's associations with romantic love arrived after the High Middle Ages, during which the concept of romantic love was formulated.

The day is now most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love notes in the form of "valentines." Modern Valentine symbols include the heart-shaped outline and the figure of the winged Cupid (in Roman mythology, Cupid was the god of erotic love).

Starting in the 19th century, the practice of hand writing notes has largely given way to the exchange of mass-produced greeting cards. The Greeting Card Association estimates that, world-wide, approximately one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. The association also estimates that women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

Other holidays observed nationwide

In addition to the official holidays, many religious, ethnic, and other traditional holidays populate the calendar, as well as observances proclaimed by officials and lighter celebrations. These are rarely observed by businesses as holidays; indeed, many are viewed as opportunities for commercial promotion. Because of this commercialization, some critics apply the depreciative term Hallmark holiday to such days, after the Hallmark greeting card company.




winter, date varies

Chinese New Year

The start of the new year in the lunar calendar, often associated with China or other Asian nations and a time to celebrate their cultures.

late winter, date varies

Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday

The exuberant days leading up to Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras in French close with Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent in the Christian calendar.

February 2

Groundhog Day

Prediction from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania groundhog on whether country will have six more weeks of winter.

February 14

Valentine's Day

Traditional celebration of love and romance, including the exchange of of cards, candy, flowers, and other gifts.

March 17

St. Patrick's Day

A celebration of Irish heritage and culture, based on the Catholic feast of St. Patrick. Primary activity is simply the wearing of green clothing ("wearing o' the green"), although drinking beer dyed green is also popular.

March 21

Earth Day

A day used to promote environmentalism.

March 22

World Water Day

A day to promote awareness of water.

April 1

April Fool's Day

A day to play tricks on family, friends, and coworkers, if so inclined.

Spring Sunday, date varies


Celebrates the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, Easter is a day of religious services and the gathering of family. Many Americans follow old traditions of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving children baskets of candy. On the next day, Easter Monday, the President of the United States holds an annual Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn for young children. The holiday is also often celebrated as a nonsectarian spring holiday. Not generally observed by most businesses. Some financial markets and other businesses close early on the Friday prior, Good Friday.

third Wednesday of April

Administrative Professionals Day

A day for honoring secretaries and other administrative personnel, formerly Secretaries Day.

April 22, date varies

Earth Day

A day used to promote environmentalism.

Spring, date varies

Arbor Day

A day for the planting of trees, commonly the last Friday of April but depending on the climate of the state.

May 5

Cinco de Mayo

Ostensibly, a celebration of the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, but more generally a day for celebrating Mexican culture

May, second Sunday

Mother's Day

Honors mothers and motherhood (made a "Federal Holiday" by Presidential order, although Federal offices are already closed on Sundays)

May, third Saturday

Armed Forces Day

Celebrates the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps; formerly, each had separate days.

June 8

World Ocean Day

A day to promote awareness of the world's Oceans and Seas.

June 14

Flag Day

Honors the American flag, encourages citizens to fly the flag and study its traditions.

June 19


Primarily an African American holiday, honors the end of slavery in the United States.

June, third Sunday

Father's Day

Honors fathers and fatherhood.

depends on Hebrew calendar

Rosh Hashanah

Traditional beginning of the Jewish High Holidays.

depends on Hebrew calendar

Yom Kippur

Traditional end of and highest of the Jewish High Holidays.

October 31


Celebrates All Hallow's Eve, decorations include jack o'lanterns, costume wearing parties, and candy such as candy corn are also part of the holiday. Kids go trick-or-treating to neighbors who give away candy. Not generally observed by businesses.

first Tuesday after the first Monday in November

Election Day

Observed by the federal and state governments in applicable years; legal holiday in some states.

Saturday following November 9

Sadie Hawkins Day

This was a day when women would ask men for dates, usually to a dance or other social, breaking with tradition.

November 1 through January 1

The Holiday season

Non-offensive celebration of non-specific wintry holidays without reference to Christmas, Thanksgiving, Chanukkah, the winter solstice or other celebrations that occur in this season. Marked by snowflakes, exchanging of gifts and cards, holiday office parties, holiday trees, and singing songs about bells, snow, and togetherness. Generally a few days of holiday leave are granted by buisinesses in this season.

December 26 through January 1


African American holiday celebration



Home Assignment

(1) Prepare to speak about public holidays in Western countries and in other countries.

(2) Study the following websites and prepare to speak about Wonders of the Western World:






Many people have since devised lists of wonders of the modern world. The most common list is:

1.       Channel Tunnel (United Kingdom and France)

2.       CN Tower (Toronto, Canada)

3.       Empire State Building (New York, USA)

4.       Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, USA)

5.       Itaipu Dam (Brazil and Paraguay)

6.       Delta Works (The Netherlands)

7.       Panama Canal (Panama) .



 Tools and Resources for English Teachers