Holidays are the part of the culture in every country. If you want to know the other nation it’s very important to learn about its history and culture. Let’s know more about the holidays in England.
Christmas is Britain's most popular holiday and is characterized by traditions which date back hundreds of years. Many Christmas customs which originated in Britain have been adopted in the United States.
The Word Christmas comes from the Old English name 'Cristes Maesse' and is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The first recorded observance occurred in Rome in AD360 but it wasn't until AD440 that the Christian Church fixed a celebration date 25th of December.
Christmas decorations in general have even earlier origins. Holly ivy and mistletoe are associated with rituals going back beyond the Dark Ages. The custom of kissing beneath a sprig of mistletoe is derived from an ancient pagan tradition.
The Christmas tree was popularised by Prince Albert husband of Queen Victoria who introduced one to the Royal Household in 1840. Since 1947 the country of Norway has presented Britain annually with a large Christmas tree which stands in Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during the Second World War.
The first ever Christmas card was posted in England in the 1840s and the practice soon became an established part of the build-up to Christmas. Over a billion Christmas cards are now sent every year in the United Kingdom many of them sold in aid of charities.
Popular among children at Christmas time are pantomimes: song and dance dramatizations of well-known fairy-tales which encourage audience participation.
Carols are often sung on Christmas Eve by groups of singers to their neighbors and children hang a stocking on the fireplace or at the foot of their bed for Santa Claus (also named Father Christmas) to fill. Presents for the family are placed beneath the Christmas tree.
On Christmas Day many families attend Christmas services at church.
The Christmas Dinner is the main Christmas meal and is traditionally eaten at mid-day or early afternoon on Christmas Day. Christmas dinner consists traditionally of a roast turkey goose or chicken with stuffing and roast potatoes brussels sprouts roast potatoes cranberry sauce rich nutty stuffing tiny sausages wrapped in bacon (pigs in a blanket). This is followed by mince pies and a rich Christmas fruity pudding flaming with brandy to ward off evil spirits which might contain coins or lucky charms for children. The pudding is usually prepared weeks beforehand and is customarily stirred by each member of the family as a wish is made. Later in the day a Christmas cake may be served - a rich baked fruit cake with marzipan icing and sugar frosting.
A Christmas tradition involving the turkey is to pull its wishbone. This is one of the bones of the turkey which is shaped like the letter 'Y'. Two people will each hold an end and pull. The person left with the larger piece of the bone makes a wish.
The pulling of Christmas crackers often accompanies food on Christmas Day. Invented by a London baker in 1846 a cracker is a brightly coloured paper tube twisted at both ends which contains a party hat riddle and toy or other trinket. When it is pulled by two people it gives out a crack as its contents are dispersed.
Another traditional feature of Christmas afternoon is the Queen's Christmas Message to the nation broadcast on radio and television.
In Britain Boxing Day is usually celebrated on the following day after Christmas Day which is 26 December. However strictly speaking Boxing Day is the first weekday after Christmas. Like Christmas Day Boxing Day is a public holiday. This means it is typically a non working day in the whole of Britain. When Boxing Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday the following Monday is the public holiday. Traditionally 26 December was the day to open the Christmas Box to share the contents with the poor.
Christmas boxes were used in different ways. For example to protect ships. During the Age of Exploration when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new land A Christmas Box was used as a good luck device. It was a small container placed on each ship while it was still in port. It was put there by a priest and those crewmen who wanted to ensure a safe return would drop money into the box. It was then sealed up and kept on board for the entire voyage.
If the ship came home safely the box was handed over to the priest in the exchange for the saying of a Mass of thanks for the success of the voyage. The Priest would keep the box sealed until Christmas when he would open it to share the contents with the poor.
Christmas boxes were used to help the poor. An 'Alms Box' was placed in every church on Christmas Day into which worshippers placed a gift for the poor of the parish. These boxes were always opened the day after Christmas which is why that day became know as Boxing Day.
A present for the workers. Many poorly paid workers were required to work on Christmas Day and took the following day off to visit their families. As they prepared to leave their employers would present them with Christmas boxes.
During the late 18th century Lords and Ladies of the manor would "box up" their leftover food or sometimes gifts and distribute them the day after Christmas to tenants who lived and worked on their lands.
And the tradition still continues today. It is customary for householders to give small gifts or monetary tips to regular visiting trades people (the milkman dustman coalman paper boy etc.) and in some work places for employers to give a Christmas bonus to employees.
Traditionally Boxing Day is the day when families get together. It is a day of watching sports and playing board games with the family.
New Year’s Day
The celebration of New Year's day varies according to the district. In the south of England the festival of Christmas lasting 12 days from December 25th runs on well into the New Year. The decorations of coloured streamers and holly put up round the walls and of course the fir-tree with its candles or lights are not packed away until January 5th. On the evening of December 31st people gather in one another's homes in clubs in pubs in restaurants and hotels in dance halls and institutes to "see the New Year in". There is usually a supper of some kind and a cabaret or light entertainment. The bells chime at midnight. The people join crossed hands and sing "Auld lang syne" a song of remembrance which means "the good old days " was written by Robert Burns in 1788.
There is also a very interesting tradition of the “first guest”. The British people let in every person who knock in the door after the clock struck 12 and if it is a tall black-haired man the year will be successful. This first guest brings some coal some bread and some salt that mean wellness and happiness. He silently comes to the fireplace which consider to be the heart of the house and throw there coal there. Then he may be talked to and congratulated.
Making New Year's resolutions – pledges to change for the better in the coming year – is a common activity associated with this holiday. It is traditional to make toasts on New Year's Eve as well. Typically the old year is represented by "Father Time " an elderly man with a flowing gray beard and the new year is represented by an infant.
The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon after the first day of spring. The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After all it is the season of rebirth of planting new crops and of blossoming.
The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun. In order to set the calendar right the Roman senate in 153 BC declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year.
During the Middle Ages the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Years. January 1 has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for only about the past 400 years.
Traditionally it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends.
Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck because it symbolizes "coming full circle " completing a year's cycle For example donuts.
St. Valentine’s Day
February 14 is Valentine's Day. Although it is celebrated as a lovers' holiday today with the giving of candy Valentine flowers or other gifts between couples in love it originated in 5th Century Rome as a tribute to St. Valentine a Catholic bishop.
For eight hundred years prior to the establishment of Valentine's Day the Romans had practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating young men's rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The celebration featured a lottery in which young men would draw the names of teenage girls from a box. The girl assigned to each young man in that manner would be his companion during the remaining year.
In an effort to do away with the pagan festival Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in the lottery. Instead of the names of young women the box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women were allowed to draw from the box and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint they drew during the rest of the year. Needless to say many of the young Roman men were not too pleased with the rule changes.
Instead of the pagan god Lupercus the Church looked for a suitable patron saint of love to take his place. They found an appropriate choice in Valentine who in AD 270 had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius.
Claudius had determined that married men made poor soldiers. So he banned marriage from his empire. But Valentine would secretly marry young men that came to him. When Claudius found out about Valentine he first tried to convert him to paganism. But Valentine reversed the strategy trying instead to convert Claudius. When he failed he was stoned and beheaded.
During the days that Valentine was imprisoned he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. His love for her and his great faith managed to miraculously heal her from her blindness before his death. Before he was taken to his death he signed a farewell message to her "From your Valentine.” The phrase has been used on this day ever since.
Although the lottery for women had been banned by the church the mid-February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine was still used by Roman men to seek the affection of women. It became a tradition for the men to give the ones they admired handwritten messages of affection containing Valentine’s name.
The first Valentine card grew out of this practice. The first true Valentine card was sent in 1415 by Charles duke of Orleans to his wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time.
Cupid another symbol of the holiday became associated with it because he was the son of Venus the Roman god of love and beauty. Cupid often appears on Valentine cards.
April Fool’s Day
Unlike most of the other nonfoolish holidays the history of April Fool's Day sometimes called All Fool's Day is not totally clear. It is not like Halloween where despite an interesting history most people just put on Halloween costumes get candy and leave it at that. There really wasn't a "first April Fool's Day" that can be pinpointed on the calendar. Some believe it sort of evolved simultaneously in several cultures at the same time from celebrations involving the first day of spring.
The closest point in time that can be identified as the beginning of this tradition was in 1582 in France. Prior to that year the new year was celebrated for eight days beginning on March 25. The celebration culminated on April 1. With the reform of the calendar under Charles IX the Gregorian Calendar was introduced and New Year’s Day was moved to January 1.
However communications being what they were in the days when news traveled by foot many people did not receive the news for several years. Others the more obstinate crowd refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the new year on April 1. These backward folk were labeled as "fools" by the general populace. They were subject to some ridicule and were often sent on “fools errands” or were made the butt of other practical jokes.
This harassment evolved over time into a tradition of prank-playing on the first day of April. The tradition eventually spread to England and Scotland in the eighteenth century. It was later introduced to the American colonies of both the English and French. April Fool's Day thus developed into an international fun fest so to speak with different nationalities specializing in their own brand of humor at the expense of their friends and families.
In Scotland for example April Fool's Day is actually celebrated for two days. The second day is devoted to pranks involving the posterior region of the body. It is called Taily Day. The origin of the “kick me” sign can be traced to this observance.
Pranks performed on April Fool's Day range from the simple (such as saying "Your shoe's untied or I accidentally stepped on your glasses!)