Easter 2016

View dates for Easter 2016 plus facts and tips about how this holiday is celebrated across Australia.

201625 MarFriGood FridayNational
201626 MarSatEaster SaturdayNational (Except TAS & WA)
201627 MarSunEaster SundayACT, NSW & VIC
201628 MarMonEaster MondayNational
201629 MarTueEaster TuesdayTAS ^^


In 2016, Easter will be celebrated with the Good Friday holiday on 25 March and Easter Monday holiday on 28 March to create a 4-day long weekend.

This is the biggest and most anticipated long weekend of the year and is thus the busiest holiday time of the year on our nation’s roads. It is also one of only two times each year when almost all retail stores, restaurants and cafes close on the official public holidays (the other being Christmas).

It’s necessary to plan your Easter long weekend travel with significant lead time – ideally months beforehand. Many hotels, resorts and campsites are booked out months in advance, even a year or more for popular locations. Similarly, restaurants receive heavy bookings in advance for their Easter Sunday lunches.

Hot cross buns. Photo: Jan Smith; flickr.com/26085795@N02/

Hot cross buns. Photo: Jan Smith; flickr.com/26085795@N02/


What is Easter?

Easter is the oldest of the Christian festivals. It is celebrated approximately at the end of the first quarter of the calendar year although its date changes depending on the lunar cycle.

In her book, The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister writes,

“Easter the scholars tell us, is the oldest feast in the history of Christianity, but it really only came into focus as a distinct celebration in the late second century… The truth is that Easter, Resurrection, has been celebrated in the church every Sunday since the first week after the resurrection itself.” – Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year

Australia has one of the most unique Easters due to its location in the Southern Hemisphere of the globe. Easter, which in the Northern Hemisphere is a celebration of the beginning of spring and new life, actually takes place during autumn in Australia. So an Australian Easter celebrates harvests instead of rejoicing in the coming of spring. The religious aspect of Easter remains the same, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and continuing to remain one of the most prevalent holidays in the Christian calendar. Australian Christians use Easter as a time to celebrate, but also to sit back and think on the hardships, the injustices, and the suffering that led to the holiday.

Easter in Australia – and around much of the western world – falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the March equinox. This puts Easter Sunday between the end of March and the end of April, depending on the year. Easter is a celebration that spans over a 50-day period. It begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter Sunday with many, many Easter-related events in between.

Palm Sunday

The beginning of the celebrations of Easter in Australia, Palm Sunday represents the coming of Jesus Christ into the town of Jerusalem. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, it is said that the Jerusalemites waved palm branches to signal his arrival. The churches observe the symbolism by carrying massive palm tree branches in a large procession, while the general congregation carries small crosses made of palm leaves. After the ceremonies come to a close, the churches burn the palm branches and save the ash for use during Ash Wednesday.

Palm Sunday at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne

Palm Sunday at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne. Photo: Rob Deutscher, flickr.com/bobarc

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday falls 46 days before Easter Sunday and is the beginning day of Lent. Celebrated by most Western Christian denominations, it rides on the concept that Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert, all the while overcoming Satan’s temptations. In ancient times, lying in ash and covering oneself with sackcloth was said to be a way to outwardly show an inner repentance. This process has been adapted for modern times by the churches into a simpler, more symbolic ritual. The ash collected from the burning of the palm branches from the Palm Sunday procession is used to place the mark of a cross on the congregant’s forehead. Some churches simply sprinkle the ash over the follower’s head during special ceremonies. Lent is the 40 days following Ash Wednesday and is used to repent and recall the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. The practice has changed since its origin, with only a handful of devout worshipers still fast during the full 40 day period. Some fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and some opt to give up a vice for Lent, instead of fasting.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, celebrates The Last Supper. During The Last Supper, Jesus was said to have washed his disciples’ feet and consecrated the bread and wine at the table. It was on the eve of The Last Supper that he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and was later arrested, which ultimately led to his crucifixion. Churches commemorate this event by holding a special service called a Eucharist that includes blessing oils, bread, and wine as well as foot washing and story-telling rites.

Good Friday

Good Friday is considered not only a religious holiday in Australia, but also a national holiday with schools, businesses, and retail shops being closed. Alcohol sales and pub hours are restricted; however the strictness of these policies seems to be loosening in recent years. Public transportation is generally shut down on Good Friday, as well.

Good Friday is observed as a day of mourning by worshipers. Memorialising Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, churches honour the day with long prayer vigils and special services while some Christians treat Good Friday as a day of fasting –  eating little to no meat at all.

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday represents the day that Jesus lay in his tomb after being crucified. Also considered a holiday in some parts of the country, government offices remained closed while stores have restricted, shortened hours of operation. Thought to be a popular day for christenings and weddings, Holy Saturday falls directly in the middle of a four day holiday weekend, and is frequently a time used by families to go on a short vacation. Generally, churches hold no special services or mass on this day.

Easter Sunday

Meant to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from his tomb, Easter Sunday is a joyous event in the Christian calendar. Churches are filled with flowers and gold and white decorations, while choirs fill the church halls with the singing of special hymns. Children are given gifts of chocolate eggs and decorated egg hunts occur around most homes. A national holiday, almost all businesses are closed, depending on the regulations of the territory. In some locations, public transport operates on a restricted schedule, while in other areas there is no public transport running at all. In Australia, the weekend is filled with both cultural and sporting events and most citizens spend their Easter holiday either attending or watching one of these events on TV.

Easter Monday

Easter Monday is the last of the national public holidays relating to the Easter celebrations. Most businesses and all schools are closed and public transportation is either shut down or operating on restricted hours. While the holiday marks the finalization of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, most Australians use it as a free day to attend events and family dinners.

The Easter Bilby

Easter celebrations in most countries include the use of the Easter Bunny, who is seen as a symbol of Easter and the bringer of the Easter eggs. However, rabbits are considered pests in Australia, causing costly damage to farms and devastating crops. Hence, attempts have been made – somewhat successfully – to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby – a small marsupial with long ears and nose. The Bilby is a small, timid creature that is native only to Australia and currently on the endangered species list. In 1994, an organization named the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation embarked on a campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby. Receiving great support, you can now purchase chocolate Bilbies and children’s books about the Easter Bilby, with proceeds going towards the conservation of the animal.

Hot Cross Buns

Since Australia was originally a British colony, it shares many of the same religious and holiday customs. One such shared-custom is the eating of hot cross buns on Good Friday. Hot cross buns are generally a spiced bun made with dried fruit. These are then topped with an iced cross made of a flour and water mixture. Australians have put their own spin on the favorite pastry, now offering the buns in a chocolate variety. The dried fruit has been replaced with chocolate chips and cocoa powder has been added to the spice mixture. Although typically consumed on Good Friday, you can find hot cross buns for sale in shops and street vendor’s carts all throughout the Easter holiday time.

Cultural Events

In Ulladulla, New South Wales, you can still witness The Blessing of the Fleet. This was a tradition brought over from Sicily, Italy in 1956. The Blessing of the Fleet is said to secure an ample catch and that the sailors would return to port unharmed. The Italian immigrants pronounced Saint Peter to be the patron saint of fishermen and a large festival is held on the coast including activities such as spaghetti eating contests, greasy pole climbing contests, and naming of the fishermen’s princess.

The Sydney Royal Easter Show is a two-week annual show that encompasses the Easter weekend. Beginning in 1823, it is facilitated by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and celebrates the rural industries of the country. Not only does it include an agriculture show, the event hosts an amusement park and fair as well as a judging of local livestock and produce. It currently attracts over a million visitors each year.

The National Folk Festival is a family oriented event that is held in Canberra every Easter weekend. It has over 20 stages showcasing world-class artists. Workshops are conducted, over 100 concerts are held, and over 30 food vendors are in attendance. There are approximately 60 craft stalls and roughly 50,000 people visit the festival each year.

Easterfest, previously known as The Australian Gospel Music Festival, in Toowoomba, Queensland is another large venue attraction during the Easter holidays. This is a three day music event that draws more than 20,000 people to Queen’s Park in Queensland each year.

Sporting Events

Easter weekend is the culmination of many high profile horse races and major league football games. As well as highly televised sports matches, there are several notable sports events occurring around the nation during the Easter weekend celebrations.

One such festivity is the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race. Beginning on Good Friday, the race contains anywhere from 40 to 100 boats and has been occurring annually since 1949. The course stretches from Shorncliff in Moreton Bay in Queensland to Gladstone Harbour and is organised by the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club.

The Australian Three Peaks Race is held in Tasmania every year during the Easter weekend. The course includes 335 nm of sailing, 131 km of running, and 2,646 m of climbing. It is a non-stop weekend event that begins at Launceston’s Beauty Point on the Tamar River and ends in the Tasmanian Capital City. Designed after the British Barmouth to Fort William Three Peaks Race, the Australian Three Peak Race was instituted in 1989 and has reoccurred annually since then.

Perhaps the oldest of the Easter sporting events, The Stawell Gift has been occurring yearly since 1878. Every Easter weekend, except for a short stint during the Second World War, the Stawell Gift has been the highlight of the Easter sporting proceedings. The most prestigious of all Australian footraces, it is run over 120 metres of grass track in front of the 100 year old Grandstand in Stawell’s Central Park and implores a handicapping procedure that can often pit local runners against international specialists. The three day meeting begins on the Saturday of Easter weekend and comes to a close on Easter Monday. Over 60 events take place during the weekend’s meeting, with the Stawell Gift being the feature. Gambling is allowed inside of the facility with an on-site bookmaker’s center.

While most Australian Easter traditions are similar to those of other Western Christian based countries, Australians have adjusted the celebrations slightly to fit our own culture and season. While Easter remains the height of the Christian’s calendar in Easter, most Easter celebrations are more cultural and sports focused than religious based. Churches are still flooded with worshipers during the most significant holiday of the year; however Easter has recently become a cluster of prestigious social events and music festivals, too.

Note: ^^ Restricted public holiday in Tasmania. Observed by some awards/agreements and the State Public Service. To check award ring Fair Work Infoline on 131394.