Imagine a holiday in the United States where everyone you know is missing from work. Neighbors mysteriously develop a cough, your relatives suddenly just don’t feel well, and your husband or wife winks at you as he or she calls off from work. This doesn’t happen on any one holiday in the US, but I have a feeling if the Super Bowl
were on any day other than Sunday, it might.
Australia has such a holiday, but it’s not a public holiday for the entire country. The Melbourne Cup falls on the first Tuesday in November and is considered ‘the day a nation stops for a horse race’. The country ignores the fact that it is only a holiday in Victoria, and take the opportunity to take the day off.
The Melbourne Cup race, otherwise known as The Cup, stops the nation in their tracks. Many Aussies stay home from work, stop work entirely to watch, or leave for lunch and never return. The entire nation works itself into a frenzy over this horse race. People that never bet at any other time of their lives will bet on The Melbourne Cup.
It’s a day of sweepstakes and betting on the Melbourne Cup. All of the local and national newspapers will print a list of the horses, jockeys, the colors they’ll be wearing, and their numbers, so that people can cut them up and draw them out for a sweepstakes.
Even the children partake in the excitement of the Melbourne Cup. Kids go to school with a bit of money (usually just a one dollar coin) and go into a sweepstakes. Generally, each class has it’s own. The teacher will cut strips of paper (or sometimes the newspaper listings) with the names of the horses, put them into a container or jar, and each kid will draw out the name of a horse.
First prize is normally most of the money, with second and third prize splitting the remainder. When the race is on, it’s normally broadcast into the classroom. If the classrooms don’t have individual televisions, everyone meets somewhere in the school to watch the Melbourne Cup together.
In the work place, for those who have shown up, it’s the same story. Large companies have special workplace lunches in which the company pays the expenses, though the employees tend to contribute as well. The most productive companies take some time to watch and participate in the festivities of Melbourne Cup day.
Most pubs, clubs, and restaurants in the country have a Melbourne cup luncheon. These nearly always involve chicken and champagne. Every racetrack in the country has a Cup day. This happens whether each track is hosting local races, and if there are none, people show up anyway to get in on the act and the festivities.
Those who are lucky enough to attend the Melbourne Cup itself, it’s truly a memorable experience. Ladies often dress in their very best outfits, complete with large brimmed sunhats. Those who have more money at their disposal often go to any number of tents that are sponsored by large companies. These are generally invitation only, but some are not.
For everyone else, the world seems to stop as the race is run. The evening news if filled with news from the Melbourne Cup, and related events around Australia. Oftentimes, the news is filled with video of outrageous outfits and live video feed from Melbourne. This great humor they report on those who have had too much to drink, and have ended up passed out in various public places.
As for the city of Melbourne, the locals will tell you it’s truly a unique experience each year for The Melbourne Cup. ‘Car park picnics’ are highly popular. These are simply folks who don’t wish to go to the races. They instead have a picnic straight from the trunk of their car. My friend Maryanne, who resides in Melbourne, had the following to say, “There is a palatable atmosphere here. Even if you don’t give a stuff about it, you can’t help but feel the excitement in the air.”
She goes on to say, “As a public holiday here, it’s a bit different. Instead of workplace Cup parties, people get together with family and friends at their houses, or go to parks for barbeques and picnics. They might also go to one of the countless number of Melbourne Cup Luncheons at restaurants, clubs, pubs and the like”.
Perhaps Melbourne Cup day is about much more than a horse race. It might just be Australians take the opportunity to remember that they still know how to enjoy life, and they are darn proud they don’t take themselves too seriously. It might also be a day to enjoy family, enjoy life, and perhaps win a few bucks to boot.