It’s New Zealand’s big national day – the marking of the anniversary of the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. And although the exact details of what the treaty promises may vary for individuals and groups, one thing is clear – it’s a time for all Kiwis to celebrate their country.
The first Waitangi Day was held in 1934, but it wasn’t until 1947 that annual celebrations took place, and it took until 1974 before the day was marked with a public holiday (officially February the 6th). Our governor-general attended official celebrations from 1952, and they were joined, from 1958, by the current prime minister of the day.
While today’s official celebration centres on Waitangi, in Northland, the country as a whole hosts a huge range of Waitangi Day functions and public events. However, it’s not only in Aotearoa that happenings take place. Kiwis have always been known as worldwide travellers in search of adventure, so they wash up in almost every country on the globe. And when they do, they like to party! In fact, Waitangi Day is held in such high esteem that embassies, high commissions, societies, and individuals, far from home, like to celebrate in style.
Perhaps the most well-known ex-pat celebrations take place in London, UK. It’s here those with around $400 to put towards a charity-inspired ticket can attend the annual Waitangi Day Ball. A black-tie event (to be held, this year, at the glittering Waldorf Hotel) not only marks the significant day, but also helps to raise funds for the NZ Society UK Charitable Fund. This long-standing organisation uses its funds to award grants to individuals and organisations that strengthen relationships between New Zealand and the United Kingdom. A highlight of the annual ball is the announcement of the UK New Zealander of the Year, an honour which goes to a person recognised as promoting the society’s aims. Also featuring on the London UK Kiwi calendar is the NZ Society (UK) Waitangi Day church service which is followed by a drinks and canapé reception.
Perhaps more ‘infamous’ than ‘famous,’ is the Waitangi Day Pub Crawl. This informal gathering brings, literally, thousands of homesick Kiwis onto the city’s streets of London for a day of raging. Kicking off at the traditional time of 10am, it begins with a hearty pub breakfast, and follows a set route as it wends its way from one establishment to the next. This year, the day culminates with partakers (many dressed in ‘team’ uniforms) gathering outside Broad Sanctuary Conference Centre in the heart of Westminster. With Big Ben and the UK Houses of Parliament as its backdrop, the Kiwi crowd gathers for an official haka. The advice for anyone wishing to take part in it, is: “Don’t attempt the haka if you’re under the weather – it’s disrespectful and only gives expat Kiwis a bad name!”
Across the water, in Dublin, Kiwis mark Waitangi Day with a formal dinner, while further afield, in Toronto, the Canadians team up with both Aussies and New Zealanders for a joint Business Association Waitangi Day Reception. Those in attendance go in the draw to win flights to Air Canada’s gateways to Australia or New Zealand. In Wanneroo, Perth, Wider Communities Food Relief Incorporated (a food relief charity) marks Waitangi Day with stalls, entertainment, and kapa haka performances, while in Melbourne, several organisations, including WOMANZ – Australian-based businesswomen (and men) bring the day to the fore with get-togethers.
This year, whether you’re at home or travelling the world, be sure to check out individual city and Facebook event pages to see how you can celebrate our national day in style!