Public Holidays

With the Elephant team now based in NZ, Australia, the UK, France and the US – we celebrate almost 50 public holidays between us all!

But who does have the most paid public holidays, and who has the least?

What are the weirdest or most unique public holidays?

What is the legislation HR and payroll should be aware of?

Have a read of our Public Holidays around the world and see if you know it all.

Who has the most and least paid days?

So who wins the day with the most public holidays? And who has the least?

Make a guess before you read below….

(no cheating…. have you guessed?)


It’s actually Iran at number 1 with 27 paid public holidays. Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Malaysia share the second place with 19 paid public holidays. Colombia comes third with 18 paid public holidays. Norway is almost the lowest in the world with only two paid public holidays but once again the USA wins the wooden spoon award with zero paid public holidays.

The average number of public holidays out of 195 countries is 11 and most western and European countries have around that number.

Can you name all the public holidays that are celebrated in your country?? And the dates??

What are the most unique founding public holidays?

In New Zealand we have Waitangi Day which celebrates the ‘founding’ of NZ when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Many other countries celebrate their founding in some way – sometimes from a revolution or becoming independent. In the USA it’s fourth of July. In France it’s Bastille Day. In Australia it’s Australia Day because Aussies say it like it is.

But Australia also has another founding holiday called picnic day which is celebrated just in Northern Territory. Yes you read that right. Picnic day. This is a sort of labour day, allowing workers of Darwin’s railway to go to Adelaide River for a picnic, but it is now a full three-day weekend of festivities and relaxation for the area.

Bhutan’s national holiday celebrates the anniversary of Ugyen Wangchuck’s 1907 election as the countries first hereditary King (yes they elected a King!), but they don’t celebrate it’s 1949 independence.

South Africa has several days relating to landmarks in their history including Freedom Day, Workers Day, Youth Day, Heritage Day, Day of Reconciliation and Goodwill Day.

Interestingly Britain and Denmark have no national holiday to celebrate their founding! Denmark does have a national liberation day, and international workers day – but neither are public holidays.

For this category we nonimate picnic day as the most unique country or state founding public holiday!

What are the strangest public holidays?

Up Helly Aa is held annually in Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands of Scotland in January. It typically includes a series of marches while dressed up as a Viking and walking through the town with flaming torches, leading to the burning of a galley. The following Wednesday is a public holiday to allow everyone to recover.

La Tomatina is messier than most holidays! Taking place in the town of Buñol, outside of Valencia, Spain, this holiday invites people to join in a giant food fight and throw overripe tomatoes at one another in the streets. The annual event takes place on the last Wednesday in August.

Anzac Day is celebrated in New Zealand and Australia as a joint public holiday on 25 April each year. Australia also has Melbourne Cup day in Victoria in November – perhaps the only public holiday related to horse racing in the world?

When people think of Princeton, they often picture the Ivy League university – not a day built on the tradition of peeing. Peeing Day takes place annually on the second Saturday of March in Princeton, New Jersey. The holiday is in remembrance of an event where soldiers peed on their opponents during the Revolutionary War, and today locals recreate the battle.

While Valentine’s is reserved for couples and celebrating love, many cultures don’t have a holiday set up for singles. In Korea, however, there is a day built for single people called Black Day that is celebrated every April 14. On this day, people who are single wear black and often go out and enjoy jjajangmyeon, which are noodles coated with a black bean sauce

While it is fairly common for countries to remember an important military event through the commemoration of a national holiday, few battles are remembered in such a strange way as the Bolivian loss of the Port of Calama to Chilean forces. On March 23, the land-locked country remembers the loss of its last ocean-front property by marching in parades and solemnly listening to recordings of sea gulls and ship’s horns. It is called Day of the Sea.

But our favourite is Melon Day. If you live in Turkmenistan, you celebrate a popular breed of melons and muskmelons with a full day of fesitivities, every August 12th. The president of the country has even reflected how important the holiday is to his people, noting that “since ancient times Turkmenistan has been considered the homeland of the best melons in the world.”

What are the legislation differences?

In New Zealand you get paid time and a half when you work a public holiday – regardless of whether you are on a salary or an hourly rate. If it’s a usual working day, then you also get an alternative holiday to take on another day. You can apply to transfer your public holidays for cultural reasons but the employer can refuse. You can only require someone to work if it’s in their employment agreement. For shift workers who work a shift that falls within a public holiday, the parties can agree that one whole shift is the public holiday (rather than split it up over two shifts).

In Australia, under the NES an employee can refuse to work on a public holiday. An award or agreement may allow for an employee to substitute a public holiday for another day. If an employee doesn’t work they should receive their base rate (excluding overtime, allowances or incentive payments) unless it’s not a normal working day for them. If they do work, it’s up to the employer what pay rate applies.

In the UK bank holidays or public holidays do not have to be given as paid leave. An employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave.

The US has federal holidays which is a public holiday recognized by the United States federal government. Non-essential federal government offices are closed. All federal employees are paid for the holiday; those who are required to work on the holiday should receive holiday pay for that day in addition to their ordinary wages. There are no ‘national holidays’ because Congress only has authority over federal institutions. Some states or cities have their own holidays.

So there you have it! Some fascinating facts around public holidays.

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