September 24 is a public holiday known simply as “New Caledonia Day”. The holiday commemorates the incorporation of New Caledonia as a French protectorate back in 1853.
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The first contacts between the people of what is now New Caledonia and Europeans were tragic. At first, whalers and sandal wood traders came, and all was relatively peaceful. But soon, diseases spread, and many native islanders died.
Then, when the sandal wood trade declined, the traders started enslaving islanders and shipping them off to Fiji or Australia.
Finally, in 1853, the French led an expedition to the South Seas and seized and formally annexed New Caledonia. This improved conditions some, but things were still rough. New Caledonia became a penal colony, apartheid and discrimination was practiced against the native islanders, and European disease still did harm. Nevertheless, conditions did slowly improve.
A big parade is held each year in Noumea, the capital city, on New Caledonia Day. There are also smaller festive events throughout the territory.
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