Friday, April 25, 2008


Some of you may have been fortunate enough at some point to sample one of my mother’s famous oatmealy coconutty ANZAC Biscuits*. They’re truly delicious, with a texture and flavor unmatched by any I’ve tried in the US or Australia. Today—25th April—is the day that these scrumptious desserts commemorate: ANZAC Day, one of Australia’s most important public holidays.

ANZAC stands for “Australia New Zealand Army Corps.” Both the holiday and the biscuits mark the 1st major military action fought by the combined forces of the then-young countries Australia and New Zealand in WWI—specifically, the landing in Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. The aim of the battle was to capture Istanbul, at that point the capital of the Ottoman Empire. More than 80,000 Aussies and 3,000 New Zealanders died in this failed campaign, representing a significant percentage of the countries’ contemporary populations.

ANZAC Day started during the war as a national celebration of military endeavor. Once the war ended and the veterans returned home, they sought fellowship, a way to remember their dead friends, and a way to reconcile themselves with the brutalities of war. They began gathering annually on ANZAC Day in silent dawn vigils, adding an element of memorial and reflection to the military enthusiasm. These days, ANZAC Day honors the victims of all wars. The dawn vigils remain one of the most important parts of the day, and nicely balance the mighty parades. In addition to domestic events, almost 20,000 Australians make an ANZAC Day pilgrimage each year to the battlefields in Turkey to commemorate the fallen.

According to The Age, Australia’s last surviving WWI vet watched today’s parade via the TV in his nursing home. He was 16 at the time of the battle, and is now 109 years old. I hope he had a really good day and ate lots of biscuits.

The University of Melbourne’s student newspaper included a few interesting articles about some lesser-known aspects of the day, which we recommend reading:
The echoes of war,” “Youth, Death, and Gallipoli,” and “Don’t mention the anti-war feeling.”

*Delightfully, Australian law actually prohibits anyone from referring to ANZAC Biscuits as cookies.

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