Public holidays in the UK are commonly referred to as bank holidays. As the UK is a country made up of four more or less independent regions, official holidays vary depending on if you live in England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.
There are eight bank holidays in England and Wales:
In Scotland, the summer bank holiday is earlier in August. Moreover, Scots celebrate St. Andrew’s Day on 30 November and 2 January is also a bank holiday, but Easter Monday is not. All in all, there are nine bank holidays in Scotland.
In Northern Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day on 17 March is a bank holiday, and so is Orangemen’s Day on 12 July which commemorates the Battle of Boyne. There are a total of ten bank holidays in Northern Ireland, making it the region with the most holidays in the UK.
Please remember that while banks in the UK are indeed closed, your employer is not necessarily obligated to give you paid leave on bank holidays. Also, today many shops are still open on holidays in the UK, so not everyone has these days off.
When bank holidays fall on a weekend, the following Monday is usually a “substitute” holiday. For instance, there will be a national substitute holiday (excluding Scotland) for New Year’s Day on Tuesday, 2 January 2017.
The UK does not have a national day, making it only one of two countries in the world without one (the other is Denmark). This is slightly ironic considering that many countries in the world have national days to celebrate independence from British rule.
There are, of course, more celebrations and special occasions than just bank holidays.
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November” — this slightly haunting rhyme introduces Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, one of the most unique holidays in the UK.
Guy Fawkes Night is a holiday for England, Scotland and Wales, as opposed to one of the holidays in the UK which are shared between all four countries. Instead of celebrating something that happened, Bonfire Night celebrates something that didn’t happen: the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes and other passionate Roman Catholics were involved in a conspiracy to blow up parliament and assassinate King James I. With much of London made from wood at the time and the entire royal elite present, it would have spelled disaster.
Brits mark 5 November by making bonfires, setting off fireworks, and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes. Today, the popularity of Guy Fawkes Night has somewhat decreased due to dwindling interest and increased safety regulations. The holiday is not celebrated in Northern Ireland at all, and some argue that the celebrations are immoral as Fawkes also represented the persecuted Catholic minority and suffered a violent death.
Remembrance Day marks the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 when the Great War was finally over. It was first commemorated in 1919, and every November it pays tribute to the men and women who have lost their lives in war.
Originally called Armistice Day, it was renamed Remembrance Day following the Second World War when most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, including the UK, officially began to commemorate both wars, as well as more recent loss of British soldiers’ lives in warzones such as Afghanistan.
In addition to the actual day, Remembrance Sunday is also observed on the second Sunday in November. On 11 November, there are two minutes of silence across the UK. In London, leading politicians, religious leaders and, of course, the Royal Family gathers for a service at the Cenotaph. It is common practice to lay a wreath in commemoration.
As Remembrance Day approaches, you will notice people with felt or paper poppies pinned to their coats as a symbol of Remembrance Day. These bright red flowers have become emblematic of “Flanders’ Fields” and the lives lost in World War One.
Although there isn’t a specific bank holiday that celebrates the Royal Family, there are certainly celebrations. Even though her actual birthday is in April, the Queen officially celebrates her birthday on a Saturday in June with the Trooping the Colour Parade, known more simply as The Queen’s Birthday Parade. Although it is a grand spectacle, a public holiday is not part of the deal.
Should something monumental, however, take place the UK might create a public holiday. For example, 2012 marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and 60 years on the throne — only the second monarch ever to reach the milestone, the other being Queen Victoria. To celebrate, the traditional end of May bank holiday was moved to 4 June, and 5 June also became a one-off bank holiday creating a rare four day weekend.
The UK today is very much a multicultural society (though unfortunately discrimination and racism still exist). With multiculturalism comes a multitude of religious and cultural holidays. If holidays outside of one particular religion are new to you, you’ll soon be aware of holidays such as Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali, Noruz, Rosh Hashanah, and Guru Nanak. You might even start celebrating some of them too!
These holidays have made it onto the annual calendar for holidays in the UK, although they are only celebrated by certain parts of the population and employers do not usually grant time off for them. Check out, for instance, this interfaith calendar.
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