A Guide to Anzac Day for New Zealanders
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Traditions & Rituals

The Anzac Day ceremony is rich in tradition and ritual. It is, essentially, a military funeral, with all the solemnity and symbolism such an event entails: uniformed service personnel standing motionless around a memorial, with heads bowed and weapons reversed; a bier of wreaths laid by the mourners; the chaplain reading the words from the military burial service; the firing of three volleys; and the playing of the Last Post, followed by a prayer, hymn, and benediction.

The secular ceremony

Many Anzac Day ceremonies occur at war memorials. There are nearly 500 civic First World War memorials in New Zealand, most of which were erected in the 1920s. Until that time, the ceremonies took place in public buildings or churches, and sometimes had a strong religious focus.

War memorials often symbolise remembrance, service and sacrifice. These themes, rather than a more religious message, emerged once Anzac Day ceremonies were held at memorials from the 1920s.

RSA leaders, service personnel, and local politicians increasingly took key roles, rather than the clergy. Over the years, the laying of wreaths has become more central to the ceremony, while fewer hymns have been sung.


Poppies have an enduring association with Anzac Day, dating back to the 1920s. Throughout New Zealand, people of all ages wear a red poppy as a mark of remembrance for the men and women who have died in the course of service for their country. Poppies made of light cloth or paper are also woven together to form wreathes which are laid at war memorials up and down the country.

The poppies are a vivid reminder of the sacrifice - the blood lost - in war. The connection between red poppies and fallen service personnel has its origins in the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century; red or Flanders poppies were the first flowers to bloom over the graves of soldiers in northern France and Belgium.

It was in the same region - the Western Front - a century later that red poppies were once more associated with those who died in war. Canadian medical officer John McCrae penned the famous and moving lines

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row.

After the First World War, the red poppy gradually became recognised as a symbol of remembrance. The shape of the poppy has undergone several changes over the years, and today's design was adopted in 1978.

Anzac Biscuits

New Zealand and Australia share a tradition of Anzac Biscuits. Both countries claim to have invented them, but Anzac Biscuits are similar to many other older biscuit recipes that are designed to produce crisp, hard and nutritious biscuits that keep well. The earliest known recipe for Anzac Biscuits appears the 8th edition of the St Andrew's Cookery Book, published in Dunedin in 1919, two years before the earliest known Australian recipe was published.

One of the food items that women in both countries sent to soldiers during the First World War was a hard, long-keeping biscuit that could survive the journey by sea, and still remain edible. These were known as Soldiers' Biscuits, but after the Gallipoli landings in 1915, they became known as Anzac Biscuits. Soldiers themselves may have made a similar form of biscuit from ingredients they had on hand: water, sugar, rolled oats and flour.

The traditional Anzac Biscuit is hard and flat - ideal for dunking in tea and then eating. During the First World War, some soldiers used broken biscuits to make a form of porridge to add some variety to their diet.

Over the years, softer and chewier versions of the biscuit have appeared. There are many recipes for Anzac Biscuits. Common to most is the inclusion of rolled oats, coconut, butter and golden syrup. Eggs almost never feature. This may be because eggs were in short supply during the First World War. Many varieties of biscuit do not have eggs, however, and like Anzac Biscuits rely instead on chemical rising agents such as bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).

Use of the term 'Anzac'

The importance of 'Anzac' to New Zealand is enshrined in law. The use of the term 'Anzac' has been protected since 1916. The current Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 (section 17) states says that, 'The Governor-General may... prohibit, regulate, or control the use in connection with any business, trade, or occupation of the word "Anzac" or of any other word that so closely resembles the word "Anzac" as to be likely to deceive or mislead any person.'

In practice this means that the term 'Anzac' cannot be used for any commercial venture. It is also protected under international copyright laws.

We recommend using the term 'ANZAC' – with all capitals – only when referring to the specific Corps. For all other uses 'Anzac' is preferred. For example, 'On the Western Front there were two Anzac corps, with New Zealand Division serving in II ANZAC Corps until 1918. New Zealanders who died in war are remembered on Anzac Day.'



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The Friday preceding Anzac Day each year is usually the day that red poppies are sold by volunteers from the RSA. New Zealand's first Poppy Day was held in 1922, when artificial poppies were sold to assist needy soldiers and their families. Ever since, the proceeds from Poppy Day have been used for the RSA's welfare service. In other countries, Poppy Day occurs near Armistice Day (11 November) to mark the end of the First World War.

Further Info

- RSA website


Anzac Biscuit

This is a basic recipe for Anzac Biscuits. It gives a chewy, moderately sweet version. Various things may be added to the mixture for variety: dried fruit, nuts, or spices such as ginger.

Melt 115g butter and 1.5 tablespoons of golden syrup. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Mix in: 1 cup of rolled oats, 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of coconut, ½ cup of sugar. Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto baking paper, and bake until a pale golden colour (about 15 minutes) at 180°C.