Culture, Shopping & Recreation
Public Holidays in the UK
Bank Holidays in the UK
Public holidays in the UK are commonly referred to as bank holidays. As the UK is a country made of four more or less independent regions, official holidays in the UK depend on if you live in England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.
There are eight bank holidays in England and Wales:
- New Year’s Day: January 1
- Good Friday: March or April (April 18, 2014 / April 3, 2015)
- Easter Monday: March or April (April 21, 2014 / April 6, 2015)
- Early May bank holiday: May (May 5, 2014 / May 4, 2015)
- Spring bank holiday: May (May 26, 2014 / May 25, 2015)
- Summer bank holiday: August (August 25, 2014 / August 31, 2015)
- Christmas Day: December 25
- Boxing Day: December 26
In Scotland, the summer bank holiday is earlier in August. Moreover, Scots celebrate St. Andrew’s Day on November 30. The 2nd of January is also a bank holiday in Scotland, but Easter Monday is not. All in all, there are nine bank holidays in Scotland.
In Northern Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated on March 17, is a bank holiday, as well as Orangemen’s Day on July 12, which commemorates the Battle of Boyne. There is a total of ten bank holidays in Northern Ireland, meaning it is 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 even has these days off.
When bank holidays in the UK fall on a weekend, the following Monday is usually a holiday as well. This is called a “substitute” holiday. For instance, there will be a substitute holiday for Boxing Day on Monday, December 28, 2015.
The UK does not have a national day, making it only one of two countries in the world without one (the other country is Denmark). This is slightly ironic considering that many countries in the world have national days to celebrate independence from British rule.
Other Holidays in the UK
There are, of course, more celebrations and special occasions than just bank holidays in the UK.
Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes Night)
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November . . .” This slightly haunting rhyme introduces Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night. It is one of the most unique holidays in the UK.
Bonfire Night takes a different approach to holidays. Instead of celebrating something that happened, it celebrates something that didn’t happen: the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes and other passionate Roman Catholics were involved in a conspiracy to blow up parliament and to assassinate King James I. It’s hard to imagine the damage that could have been done, considering that much of London was made from wood at the time and the entire royal elite would have been present on the intended day. Instead of celebrating a national hero, Guy Fawkes Night condemns a national villain and, by today’s standards, a political terrorist.
Brits mark the 5th of 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 higher safety regulations. Guy Fawkes Night is not celebrated in Northern Ireland at all. It is very much a British holiday, as opposed to one of the holidays in the UK which are shared between all four countries.
Remembrance Day in the UK
As the name implies, Remembrance Day, which was originally called Armistice Day, is also about remembering. It is observed in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Countries.
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 is celebrated to pay tribute to the men and women who have lost their lives in war.
In the United Kingdom, Remembrance Sunday is celebrated on the second Sunday in November, in addition to the actual Remembrance Day. On November 11, there are two minutes of silence across the UK. However, the main ceremony always occurs on Remembrance Sunday. In London, leading politicians, religious leaders and, of course, the Royal Family gather for a service at the Cenotaph. It is common practice to lay a wreath in commemoration.
As Remembrance Day approaches, you might notice people with felt poppies pinned to their autumn coats. The poppy is symbolic of Remembrance Day. These bright red flowers have become emblematic of “Flanders’ Fields” and the lives lost in World War One.
Royal Holidays in the UK
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. The Trooping the Colour Parade celebrates her majesty’s birthday, and 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, i.e. her 60th year on the throne. She was only the second monarch to reach sixty years of rule (other than Queen Victoria). To celebrate, the traditional end of May bank holiday was moved to June 4, 2012, and June 5, 2012 also became a one-off bank holiday, thus creating a four day weekend.
Interfaith Holidays in the UK
The UK is very much a multicultural society today (though discrimination and racism still exist). With multiculturalism comes a multitude of religious and cultural holidays. If holidays outside of one religious realm 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. Check out, for instance, this interfaith calendar provided by the BBC.
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