Stupid public holidays

When I’m travelling, there never fails to be someone that asks me:
“Doesn’t Australia get a holiday for a horse race?”

It’s just one of those things that spring to mind when people hear “Australia:” surfing, drop bears, and the holiday for a horse race.

“Doesn’t Australia get a holiday for a horse race?”

I never know how to respond, there’s always a mix of curiosity and ridicule in the question – like “that’s awesome” and “but it’s just a horse race.” And it’s hard to deny, we do have some stupid public holidays.

There’s the race that stops the nation, and then there’s the AFL Grand Final Eve public holiday, which is up in the air for 2018.

I mean, I understand giving sporting events their own day. Sport in itself is a communal event; it bridges all our differences and unites us on a primal level – the roar of the crowd, the desire for victory, the creation of community. I remember my first footy game when I moved to Australia – Essendon vs Carlton – it was unreal. Or when I went to watch Manchester United for the first time at Old Trafford, the hallowed turf and the history that had taken place there was undeniable, the passion itself was palpable.

With sport, you feel connected to something bigger than yourself.

It’s our country’s religion.

However, it is incredibly difficult to ignore the exploitation of these public holidays. Big businesses utilize these days to tap into our vices; notably gambling and alcohol. As these public holidays roll around, our screens are filled with ads telling us to place bets with money back guarantees or showing the latest deal on a 6 pack of fermented yeast.

These public holidays create competition for our attention, but don’t build on the communal nature of sport in a positive way. Just wait for it; with spring racing in full swing, the next ‘drunk person walking into a bush’ meme is waiting to be born. But I really do believe that we can have public holidays that tap into our human need for community.

However, it means a shift from sport to culture.

And here’s my case study: Singapore.

Singapore has a long list of public holidays, and the list is long for a very specific reason – to acknowledge the cultural holidays of its diverse population. The 28th and 29th of January is allocated for Chinese New Year, the 10th of May for Vesak Day (Buddhist holiday), the 25th of June for Hari Raya (Muslim holiday), the 1st of September for Haji (Muslim holiday) and the 18th of October for Deepavali (Hindu holiday).

The effectiveness of these public holidays is obvious in its simple practicality – it exposes the entire population to difference. I remember growing up in Singapore and celebrating Hari Raya with my friends, learning about Islamic culture and the theological reasons behind certain traditions. In turn, my family would often invite others over for Chinese New Year and they would learn about Chinese culture, why each calendar year has an associated animal and take part in the delicious ritual of steamboat.

One year, I did Ramadan for a few days with my best mate, and garnered a greater appreciation for the tradition. I might not be Muslim, but after that experience, I feel more connected to the community that embraced me for the short period of time I was part of it.

Unity is created through celebration, allowing cultural nuances to be framed through festivity and jubilee. The misunderstandings that come with race are slowly broken down through conversation, connection and – just as it was in sport – community.

Isn’t that what public holidays are about, a day off to reconnect – with yourself, with your family, with the wider community. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a couple drinks and a cheeky wager but something doesn’t sit right when our public holidays are positioned to take advantage of the human propensity for venality and profligacy.

Repositioning our public holidays to celebrate diversity, foster community and encourage conversation would represent a small step forward in a world that continues to exist in divisiveness and animosity.

Also, Singapore has a version of Myki that actually works, so we definitely could learn a thing or two from them.

Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.

Get in touch ~
Instagram: @chinkinthearmour

Featured image by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

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