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 respectively.
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 the idea!
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 national poet.
Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min'?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
Chorus - For auld lang syne, my dear,
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 winter's nap,
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 flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
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 and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
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 little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
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 his back,
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!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
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 round belly,
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 his head,
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 his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
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.
The Role Of Tradition
There is no other nation that clings to the past with the tenacity of the British. The Briton has a sense of the continuity of history. He loves to go through his ancient ceremonies as he has always performed them with the consciousness that he is keepнng faith with his ancestors, that he is maintaining the community they created. He does not often change his manner of carrying out official acts, and if ever he does, the new method at once becomes the tradition.
Qu'een Elizabeth the First provided one of these examples of discarding the old and supplanting it with the new. She was knitting when the list of nominees for sheriff was brought to her. Tradition decreed that she should take up her quill and make a check in ink against the name of each person whom it was her pleasure to-appoint. There was no pen handy. So Elizabeth the First, with one of her knitting needles, pricked a little hole in the parchment beside each favoured name. That is the reason why today Queen Elizabeth the Second appoints sheriffs of England by pricking holes in the listing of their names.
Even the casual visitor to London can view without effort many of the brilliant parades and spectacles in which the colour of medieval times has been preserved for ours. And if you wish you can also enter the visitors' gallery of the House of Commons and participate in the ceremony that has ruled the Commons as long as it existed. If a speaker steps across the Hne on the floor that marks the point at which he would be within sworпs length of his adversaries on the opposite side of the Chamber, the session is automatically suspended. If a rebellious member should seize the great mace, the symbol of authority that rests on the table before the Speaker's chair, and make off with it (this happened at least once), no legal business can be transacted until the mace has been restored to its position. You can also go into the House of Lords, where the glitter is more pronounced, the royal scarlet more in evidence, and where your own back will begin to ache sympathetically at the speetacle of the Lord Chancellor, so uncomfortably seated on the edge of the enormous woolsack.
Clubs. One of English traditions is clubs. A club is an association of people who like to meet together to relax and discuss things. These people are usually upper-class men or men connected with the govern-ment or other powerful organizations which control public life and support the established order of soci-ety. However, there are clubs of people not connected with the ruling circles, for example cultural clubs, whose members are actors, painters, writers and critics and their friends. In a word, clubs are organizations which join people of the same interests. A club usually owns a building where members can eat, drink, and sometimes sleep. Gardening. Gardening is yery popular with many people in Britain. Most British people love gardens, and this is one reason why so many people prefer to live in houses rather than flats. In suburban areas you can see many small houses, each one with its own little garden of flowers and shrubs. For many people gardening is the foundation of friendly rela-tions with neighbours. Flower-shows and vegetable-shows, with prizes for the best exhibits, are verypopular.
London's Ceremonial Events
The London calendar is distinguished by many picturesque events and ceremonies, some of ancient origin. Among the best known are: Trooping the Colour, Opening of Parliament, the Lord Mayor's Show, the annual Opening of the Law Courts, about October 1, with a procession through the main Hall of the Courts, preceded by a special service at Westminster Abbey, and the annual Royal Academy Dinner, held on the Saturday before the opening of the summer exhibition. Less distinguished but extremely picturesque annual events include Van Horse Parade on Easter Monday and the Cart Horse Parade on Whitmonday, both in Regent's Park; the Sheep-Dog Badge, and the University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge on the Thames; the Fairs on Easter Monday, Whitmonday and August bank holiday, on Hampstead Heath and Black Year's Eve; the Soho Fair, in July, and the Chelsea Arts ball on New Year's eve. Daily ceremonies include the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Mounting of the Guard of the Household Cavalry in Whitehall, and the nightly locking up of the Tower of London, or Ceremony of the Keys by the chief warder of the yeomen warders («Beefeaters»).
Trooping The Colour
The ceremony of «Trooping the Colour» takes place annually in London on the Official Birthday of the Sovereign. It is notable for the colourful appearance and precise movements of the Foot Guards who perform it, and for the part taken in it by the Queen herself.
The ceremony derives from two old military ceremonies: Trooping the Colour and Mounting the Queeir s Guard. From earliest times Colours and Standards have been used to indicate the position of the commander in battle and act as rallying point for the soldiers, and were honoured as symbols of the spirit of military units. It was probably in the eighteenth century that it became customary in the British Army, before a battle, to salute the Colours by beat of drum before carrying them along the ranks (this is what the expression «Trooping» means) so that every soldier could see them and be able to recognise them later. It soon became usual to troop the Colour daily at the most important parade or the day: for the Regiment of Foot Guards; who traditionally have the honour of guarding the Sovereign, the most important was obviously the Mounting of the Queen's Guard.
On the Sovereign's Birthday all the Regiments of Foot Guards took part in the Trooping, and, after daily Trooping was discontinued early in Queen Victoria's reign, the full annual parade on the Sovereign's Birthday continued and has done so to this day, except during the two world wars. Only one Colour, however, can be trooped at a time, and the five Regiments (Grenadier Guards, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh) therefore take their turn year by year in strict rotation.