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Boxing Day — December 26th
The exact date of some holidays (eg Easter) varies each year. Scotland and Northern Ireland have some different national holidays. But there are many more unofficial holidays, with which different customs and traditions are connected.
Hogmanay and First Footing. At midnight on 31st December throughout Great Britain people celebrate the coming of the new year, by holding hands in a large circle and singing the song:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And the days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!..
"For auld lang syne" means "in memory of past times" and the words were written by Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns.
New Year's Eve is a more important festival in Scotland than it is in England, and it even has a special name. It is not clear where the word "Hogmanay" comes from, but it is connected with the provision of food and drink for all visitors to your home on 31st December.
It was believed that the first person to visit one's house on New Year's Day could bring good or bad luck. Therefore, people tried to arrange for the person of their own choice to be standing outside their houses ready to be let in the moment midnight had come. Usually a man with dark hair was chosen, never a woman, for she would bring bad luck. The first footer was required to carry three articles: a piece of coal to wish warmth, a piece of bread to wish food, and a silver coin to wish wealth. In parts of northern England this pleasing custom is still observed.
On New Year's Eve, people traditionally take a shower in the fountains in Trafalgar Square!
I'm in Love! On 14th February, St Valentine's Day, many people send a card to the one they love or someone whom they have fallen in love with. People usually do not sign these cards and a lot of time is spent trying to guess who has sent them!
Pancake Day. Ash Wednesday is the day in February when the Christian period of Lent begins. This refers to the time when Christ went into desert and fasted for forty days. Although not many people actually give up eating during this period, on Pancake Tuesday, the day before the Ash Wednesday, they eat lots of pancakes. These are made from flour, milk and eggs, and fried in a hot pan.
Some towns also hold pancake races on that day. People run through the streets holding a frying pan and throwing the pancake in the air. Of course if they drop the pancake they loose the race!
Easter Eggs. At Easter time, the British celebrate the idea of new birth by giving each other chocolate Easter eggs which are opened and eaten on Easter Sunday. On Good Friday bakers sell hot cross buns, which are toasted and eaten with butter. Easter Monday is a holiday and many people travel to the seaside for the day or go and watch one of the many sporting events, such as football or horse-racing.
May Is Here. As summer comes, Britain likes to celebrate the end of the winter. Much of this celebration is connected with dancing which is performed to encourage life and growth and to drive away harmful spirits. Children may be seen dancing round the Maypole on village greens, weaving their brightly colored scarves into a beautiful pattern. Morris men dance all day long on the 1st May, waving their white handkerchiefs to drive away the evil spirits and welcome on the new ones.
Ghosts and Witches. Halloween means "holy evening", and takes place on 31st October. Although it is a much more important festival in the United States than in Britain, it is celebrated by many people in the UK. It is particularly connected with witches and ghosts. At parties people dress up in strange costumes and pretend they are witches. They cut horrible faces in potatoes, pumpkins and other vegetables and put a candle inside, which shines through the eyes. People may play different games such as trying to eat an apple from a bucket of water without using their hands.
In recent years children dressed in white sheets knock on doors at Halloween and ask if you would like a "trick" or a "treat", If you give them something nice, a "treat", they go away. However, if you don't they play a "trick" on you, such as making a lot of noise or spilling flour on your front doorstep!
Guy Fawkes Night. In 1605 King James I was on the throne. As a Protestant, he was very unpopular with Roman Catholics. Some of them planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November of that year, when the King was going to open Parliament. Under the House of Lords they had stored thirty-six barrels of gun powder, which were to be exploded by a man called Guy Fawkes. However, one of the plotters spoke about these plans and Fawkes was discovered, arrested and later hanged. Since that day the British traditionally celebrate 5th November by burning a dummy, made of straw and old clothes, on a bonfire, whilst at the same time letting off fireworks. This dummy is called a "guy" (like Guy Fawkes) and children can often be seen on the pavements before 5th November saying, "Penny for the guy". If they collect enough money they can buy some fireworks.
Christmas. If you try to catch a train on 24th December you may have difficulty in finding a seat. This is the day when many people are traveling home to be with their families on Christmas Day, 25th December. For most British families, this is the most important festival of the year; it combines the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ with the traditional festivities of winter.
On the Sunday before Christmas many churches hold a carol service where special hymns are sung. Sometimes carol-singers can be heard in the streets as they collect money for charity. Most families decorate their houses with brightly-colored paper or holly, and they usually have a Christmas tree in the corner of the front room, glittering with colored lights and decorations. (The main Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square is an annual gift from Norway.)
There are a lot of traditions connected with Christmas but perhaps the most important one is the giving of presents. Family members wrap up their gifts and leave them at the bottom of the Christmas tree, to be found on Christmas morning. Children leave a long sock or stocking at the end of their bed on Christmas Eve, 24th December, hoping that Father Christmas will come down the chimney during the night and bring them small presents, fruit and nuts. They are usually not disappointed! At some time on Christmas Day the family will sit down to a big turkey dinner followed by Christmas pudding. They will probably pull a cracker with another member of the family. It will make a loud crack and a colored hat, small toy and joke will fall out.
Later in the afternoon they may watch the Queen on television as she delivers her traditional Christmas massage to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. If they have room for even more food they may enjoy a piece of Christmas cake or eat a hot mince pie.
26th December is also a public holiday, Boxing Day, and this is the time to visit friends and relatives or to watch football.