Public holydays in Great Britain
Public holydays in Great Britain
There are only six public
holidays a year in Great Britain, that is days on which people need not go in
to work. They are: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday,
Spring Bank Holiday and Late Summer Bank Holiday.
In Scotland, the New Year’s Day
is also a public holiday. Most of these holidays are of religious origin,
though it would be right to say that for the greater part of the population
they have long lost their religious significance and simply days on which
people relax, eat, drink and make merry.
All the public holidays, except
Christmas Day and Boxing Day observed on December 25th and 26th respectively,
are movable, that is they do not fall on the same day each year. Good Friday
and Easter Monday depend on Easter Sunday which falls on the first Sunday after
a full moon on or after March 21st. The Spring Bank Holiday falls on the last
Monday of May or on the first Monday of June, while the Late Summer Bank
Holiday comes on the last Monday in August or on the first Monday in September,
depending on which of the Mondays is nearer to June 1st and September 1st
Besides public holidays, there
are other holidays, anniversaries and simply days, for example Pancake Day and
Bonfire Night, on which certain traditions are observed, but unless they fall
on a Sunday, they are ordinary working days.
NEW YEAR IN ENGLAND
In England the New Year is not as
widely or as enthusiastically observed as Christmas. Some people ignore it
completely and go to bed at the time as usual on New Year’s Eve. Many others,
however, do celebrate it in one way or another, the type of celebration varying
much according to the local custom, family tradition and personal taste.
The most common type of
celebration is a New Year party, either a family party or one arranged by a
group of young people. This usually begins at about eight o’clock and goes on
until the early hours of the morning. There is a lot of drinking, mainly beer,
wine, gin and whisky; sometimes the hosts make a big bowl of punch which
consists of wine, spirits, fruits juice and water in varying proportions. There
is usually a buffet supper of cold meat, pies, sandwiches, savouries (a lovely
dish of light food with a pleasant, served at the start or end of a meal),
cakes and biscuits. At midnight the wireless is turned on, so that everyone can
hear the chimes of Big Ben ( you know, it’s the bell in the clock tower of the
Houses of Parliament) and on the hour a toast is drunk to the New Year. Then
the party goes on…
Another popular way of celebrating
the New Year is to go to a New Year’s dance. Most hotels and dance halls hold a
special dance on New Year’s Eve. The hall is decorated, there are several
different bands the atmosphere is very gay.
The most famous celebration is in
London round the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus where crowds gather and
sing and welcome New Year. In Trafalgar there is also a big crowd and someone
usually falls into the fountain.
January 1st, New Year’s Day, is
not a public holiday, unfortunately for those who like to celebrate most of the
night. Some people send New Year card and give presents but this is not a
widespread custom. This is the traditional time for making "New Year
resolutions", for example, to give up smoking, or to do morning exercises
and etc. However, these are generally more talked about than put into practice.
THE NIGHT OF HOGMANAY
Nowhere else in Britain is the
arrival of the New Year celebrated so wholeheartedly as in Scotland.
Throughout Scotland, the
preparations for greeting the New Year start with a minor
"spring-cleaning". Brass and silver must be glittering and fresh
linen must be put on the beds. No routine work may be left unfinished;
stockings must be darned, tears mended, clocks wound up, musical instruments
turned, and pictures hung straight. In addition, all outstanding bills are
paid, overdue letters written and borrowed books returned. At least, that is
Most important of all, there must
be plenty of good things to eat. Innumerable homes "reek of a celestial
grocery" — plum puddings and currant buns, spices and cordials, apples and
lemons, tangerines and toffee. In mansion and farmhouse, in suburban villa and
city tenement, the table is spread with festive fare. Essential to Hogmanay are
"cakes and kebbuck" (oatcakes and cheese), shortbread and either
black bun or currant loaf. These are flanked with bottles of wine and the
"mountain dew" that is the poetic name of whisky.
In the cities and burghs, the New
Year receives a communal welcome, the traditional gathering-place being the
Mercat Cross, the hub and symbol of the old burgh life. In Edinburgh, however,
the crowd has slid a few yards down the hill from the Mercat Cross to the Tron
Kirk — being lured thither, no doubt, by the four-faced clock in the tower. As
the night advances, Princes Street, the main street in Edinburgh, becomes as
thronged as it normally is at noon, and there is growing excitement in the air.
Towards midnight, all steps turn to the Tron Kirk, where a lively, swaying
crowd awaits "the Chapplin o’the Twal" (the striking of the 12
o’clock). As the hand of the clock in the tower approach the hour, a hush falls
on the waiting throng, the atmosphere grows tense, and then suddenly there
comes a roar from a myriad throats. The bells peal forth, the sirens scream —
the New Year is born!
Many families prefer to bring in
the New Year at home, with music or dancing, cards or talk. As the evening
advances, the fire is piled high — for the brighter the fire, the bitter the
luck. The members of the household seat themselves round the hearth, and when
the hands of the clock approach the hour, the head of the house rises, goes to
the main door, opens it wide, and holds it thus until the last stroke of
midnight has died away. Then he shuts it quietly and returns to the family
circle. He has let the Old Year out and the New Year in. Now greetings and
small gifts are exchanged, glasses are filled — and already the First-Footers
are at the door.
The First-Footer, on crossing the
threshold, greets the family with "A Gude New Year to ane and a’!"
(Sc. A good New Year to one and all!) or simply "A Happy New Year!",
and pours out a glass from the flask he carries. This must be drunk to the
dregs by the head of the house, who, in turn, pours out a glass for each of his
visitors. The glass handed to the First-Footer himself must also be drunk to
the dregs. A popular toast is:
"Your good health!"
The First-Footer must take
something to eat as well as to drink, and after an exchange of greetings they
go off again on their rounds.
TAR — BARREL BURNING
The custom of men welcoming in
the New Year by carrying pans of blazing tar on their heads is still kept up at
Allendale, Northumberland, on New Year’s Eve. Each of the "carriers",
in fancy costume, balances on his head the end of a barrel (or "kit")
filled with inflammable material. The procession is timed to reach the unlit
bonfire shortly before midnight, then each man in turn tosses his flaming
"headgear" on to the bonfire, setting it ablaze. On the stroke of
twelve, all join hands and dance around the fire, singing Auld Lang Syne (Sc.
The days of long ago). The song by Robert Burns (1759 — 1796), Scotland’s
Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
Chorus — For auld lang syne, my
For auld lang syne,
We’ll talk a cup o’kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
by Clement Clarke Moore
‘Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not
even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the
chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon
would be there;
The children were nestled all
snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums
danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I
in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long
When out on the lawn there arose
such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what
was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a
Tore open the shutters and threw
up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the
Gave the lustre of mid-day to
When, what to my wondering eyes
But a miniature sleigh, and eight
With a little old driver, so
lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St.
More rapid than eagles his
coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and
called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donder
To the top of the porch! to the
top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash
As dry leaves that before the
wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle,
mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the
coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and
St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard
on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each
As I drew in my hand, and was
Down the chimney St. Nicholas
came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from
his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all
tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on
And he looked like a peddler just
opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled!
his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his
nose like a cherry!
And the beard of his chin was as
white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight
in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his
head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little
That shook, when he laughed like
a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right
jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in
spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of
Soon gave me to know I had
nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went
straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings;
then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of
And giving a nod, up the chimney
He sprang to his sleigh, to his
team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the
down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he
drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and
to all a good-night."
flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord
came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about
them; and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them,
Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which
shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day
in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto
you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a
And suddenly there was with
the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward men.