What is a National Anthem and How Unique Are They Really?

Carol Roach By Carol Roach, 23rd Aug 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Culture>General

I love to hear the national anthems of different countries.


Basically a national anthem is a eulogy of a nation's history, pride, traditions, principles, and struggles of its people set to music.

I always thought that the government of the land decided what the National Anthem of that country would be. However when I did a google search I found that a National Anthem could be adopted by convention; in other words the will of the people. National Anthems can be simply popular folk songs.

Canada and the USA

I should have realized that, I am a Canadian living in the province of Quebec, and Canada has the official national anthem, Oh Canada, which is sung in French and English, but Quebec has her own national anthem, adopted by the French people by convention, sentimentality, and a fierce pride for their French heritage.

Countries can adapt more than one national anthem. Oh Canada was first sung on June 24, 1880. It was Hon. Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Théodore Robitaille, who commissioned the sung for the St. Jean Baptiste Celebration. It was not adopted as the National Anthem of the Country until one hundred years and one week later, on July 1, 1980.

Gens du Pays
, by Gilles Vigneault, is the unofficial national anthem adopted by the citizens of Quebec. French Queberers sing their song at most major functions including end of the year company parties. It is a time to love, a time to live, a time to laugh and take pride in Quebec, the land of their birth.

The USA also has a few patriotic songs. the widely known Stars and Stripes Forever, and The Battle Hymn of the Republic and of course The Star Spangled Banner.

The Star Spangled Banner is the official National Anthem. Created as a poem by Francis Scott Key in 1814, the song became the national anthem by a congressional resolution in 1931. Prior to that time there was also the Hail Columbia, acting anthem, from early American history onward.

Stars and Stripes Forever was designated by an act of congress in 1896 as the National March of the United States of America. The Battle Hymn of the Republic, first appearing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862, is another American Patriotic Anthem dating back to the Civil War Days.

National anthems of other countries

The oldest National Anthem is Het Wilhelmus, written around 1568 - 1572, for the Dutch people during the Dutch Revolt. During this period forward several other national anthems surfaced in Europe and became very popular in Europe in the 19th century. With the rise of Nation states during 19th and 20th century, National Anthems spread to other colonized areas and were adopted once nationhood status was granted.

The National Anthem that has always intrigued me the most is the Australian Waltzing Matilda. I was taught in school long ago that it was the National Anthem of Australia. I now find that it is the unofficial National Anthem, and it is in fact a folk song.

Waltzing Matilda is a song about a swagman, (a itinerant worker) who was caught stealing a jumbuck, (a sheep) to eat. The police come after him but rather than let them capture him he drowned himself in the billabong (water hole, or lake) and forever haunts the site.

This song written by the poet nationalist Banjo Patterson in 1895 and is so popular it has its own museum. Waltzing Matilda was played at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. It is quite a lovely song which I really did not understand until I googled what swagman, billabong, Jumbuck, and waltz Matilda (to travel with a swag) meant.

According to the Australian Government the official National Anthem adopted on April 19, 1984 is the Advance Australia Fair. There were three possible choices, Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda, and song of Australia, with Advance Australia Fair receiving the majority vote (54 percent). I have never heard Advance Australia Fair, but I certainly love that hauntingly beautiful Waltzing Matilda, with the melody and strange words to boot.

All photos taken from the public domain

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Countries, Eulogy, Folk Songs, Gens Du Pays, Government, Het Wilhelmus, Music, National Anthem, Nations History, Oh Canada, Pride, Principles, Stars And Stripes Forever, Struggles, The Battle Hymn Of The Republic, The Star Spangled Banner, Traditions, Waltzing Matilda

Meet the author

author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

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author avatar Retired
23rd Aug 2015 (#)

Such an interesting article, Carol. I've heard 'Waltzing Matilda' many times but never knew of its significance.

Isn't the Internet great? I truly believe that our best learning comes from searching the Net....because we can learn what we want on selected subjects of interest to us rather than be forced by others to absorb information of little interest for us.

I enjoy your articles.

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author avatar Kingwell
23rd Aug 2015 (#)

Thanks for this. I like the song Waltzing Matilda but didn't know the story behind it. Blessings.

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author avatar spirited
24th Aug 2015 (#)

the only problem with our National anthem now is that Australia has never been fair in any way. It is burnt red by the sun in most places.

I feel the vote was rigged because most of us would have preferred Waltzing matildas with its larrikin theme, the other one is quiet weak and not even stirring, it's a rather poor replacement for the God save our Queen one we had before.

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author avatar Retired
24th Aug 2015 (#)

The British National Anthem is the only one I know that says absolutely nothing about the country in question (apart, that is, from the Spanish one that has no words at all!)

The British anthem is simply a prayer for the safety and prosperity of the monarch. Only one verse is normally sung, two on more formal occasions and - very exceptionally - three. Other verses have been penned at various times, including one that calls for the crushing of "rebellious Scots"!

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author avatar Carol Roach
24th Aug 2015 (#)

yes when I was growing up we sang God Save the Queen in school every morning before classes commenced.

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author avatar peachpurple
26th Aug 2015 (#)

you should listen to malaysia national anthem, sad enough to make you cry

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