Celebrating the Queen's Birthday in June
“At an earlier period, perhaps a century ago, my predecessor in office would have sought to lay this volume humbly at the foot of the Throne as an expression of loyalty and devotion of a fragment of Empire. Today we do not use quite the same language … but I believe we are just as loyal” - Sir Robert Muldoon
Every year, New Zealand and other parts of the commonwealth all look forward to the long weekend thanks to the Queen’s birthday celebrations. Dates vary every year across the commonwealth, and even across localities. In 2015, ANZAC Day underwent the “Mondayisation” process where should the public holiday fall on a weekend day, it would be pushed to the following Monday. Waitangi Day followed suit in 2016. Perhaps with the desire for a three-day break in mind, the Queen’s Birthday is marked every first Monday of June. So mark your calendars, because this means that we get Monday, June 7th off next year. But all it takes is a quick Google search to realise that Queen Elizabeth II was born in April. So why are we allowed the day off in June? And what does this mean for New Zealand’s complex historical relationship with Britain?
Every year, the Queen has two birthdays: the first one is her real birthday which is on April 21st, which she may spend in privacy. She may spend this time however she wishes, but it is plausible to assume that she would want to spend this one special day away from the press and with loved ones. Special gun salutes are fired in Hyde Park and Great Windsor Park at midday to mark the occasion, but everyone remains at work. In 2021, she will turn 95 years old.
The second one is her official birthday: the public celebration. In the UK it is publicly celebrated with the Trooping the Colour military ceremony in London, on the second Saturday of June, and will be held on Saturday, June 12th 2021. It is a televised celebration where 1400 soldiers march from Buckingham Palace to Whitehall and back, with all members of the Royal Family attending. Due to coronavirus restrictions, this year’s Trooping the Colour was cancelled for the first time since 1955, and replaced with a smaller, physically distanced military ceremony at Windsor Castle.
But why do we do this? What is the point in her having two birthdays? The answer to this question is royal tradition, which as we know is something the royal family are quite fond of.
This tradition was started 272 years ago by King George II in 1748, who was born in November, which is not exactly a month for good weather in the northern hemisphere. To combat the issue of poor weather, he decided to host public celebrations in June.
So that’s why they mark the occasion in the UK, but why do we in New Zealand still get the day off? The Queen holds considerable legal powers in New Zealand as our Head of State, but in all 16 of the Queen’s realms, there is much more to our sovereign than her obscure political and legal capacities. Across the globe, there is a combined view of the Queen as a mortal who shares in our moments of joy and sadness, but also as a mystical figure with a unique public image. This contradiction is not unique to the Queen herself. Her third great-grandfather, King George III, serves as a particularly strong example of a modest but exclusive figure who became associated with both royal elitism and ordinariness. While the Queen is not depicted in satirical cartoons on the privies, her direct and consistent communications with her subjects throughout the commonwealth (whether it be through visits or televised messages) make her a more accessible and familiar figure. Perceptions of the sovereign in Aotearoa have changed in fascinating ways. Many Kiwis (both Māori and Pākehā) welcomed her and the Duke of Edinburgh with open arms during their tour in 1953-54, where they demonstrated “movie-star glamour”. However, a re-evaluation of Te Tiriti and its significance in the 1960s saw what some historians have called a “Māori renaissance” in which the consensus surrounding feelings towards the Queen was being tested. More frequent royal visits during this decade meant the slight dissolvement of this royal mystique, but also more opportunity for people to make their discontent known to the world. On Waitangi Day, 1990, a woman threw a wet T-shirt at the Queen, and royal speeches were heckled. Nevertheless, the royal family have maintained their mystical glamour, and that of the Queen herself as well as Kiwis’ adoration and respect, through the frequent royal visits by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Even though the Ministry for Culture and Heritage reported in 2002 that only 58% of Kiwis felt that the Queen was relevant to their daily lives, a small minority feel the need to remove Her Majesty as Head of State. Changes to the royal image have brought her closer to her subjects in the south pacific. To wrap up: like many of Britain’s monarchs have been, the Queen is both ordinary and extraordinary. Our annual commemoration for her official birthday is more than just protocol: I argue that it also signifies the perfect balance between the two. Whether she feels distant or close to New Zealand and its citizens is a matter of personal choice, but she is familiar enough to New Zealanders collectively to graciously receive our recognition and respect every June.
Heidi Chapman is a Master of Arts student in History at the University of Auckland. Her interest lies in British social and political history. Since she completed a double-major undergraduate degree in History and Chinese, her thesis is about the influence of Chinese tea in London in the eighteenth century. All posts by contributing authors reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of the University of Auckland History Society. Bibliography  New Zealand Business Review, “Mondayised Holidays are Now Law”, April 18, 2013, https://www.nbr.co.nz/article/mondayised-holidays-now-law-gb-138857 , accessed October 15, 2020  Ibid.  “The Queen’s Birthday” in Royal, https://www.royal.uk/queens-birthday Accessed October 15, 2020.  The New Zealand Herald, “Queen Marks Official Birthday in Windsor after Trooping the Colour Cancelled”, June 14, 2020, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/queen-marks-official-birthday-in-windsor-after-trooping-of-the-colour-cancelled/62WSUVHL22XQXJHBRUCWVF4U5E/ , accessed October 15, 2020  “Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?” in BBC Newsround, https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/36489213  Alison Quentin-Baxter and Janet McLean, This Realm of New Zealand - The Sovereign, The Governor-General, The Crown, Auckland, 2017, pp.93-94  'Changing attitudes to monarchy', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/queen-elizabeth-jubilee/changing-attitudes-to-monarchy, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 11-Jul-2014  'Māori and the Queen', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/queen-elizabeth-jubilee/maori-and-the-queen, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 24-Sep-2018  Ibid.  'Changing attitudes to monarchy', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/queen-elizabeth-jubilee/changing-attitudes-to-monarchy, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 11-Jul-2014