HOLIDAYS AND FOLK CUSTOMS The eight national (or legal) holidays are also known as bank holidays because all banks and post offices are closed. They are: New Year's Day (1 January and in Scotland also 2 January) Good Friday and Easter Monday (moveable feast-days; Easter Monday is not kept in Scotland) Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday in May, except in Scotland) Summer (or August) Bank Holiday (on the last Monday in August but in Scotland on the first Monday) Christmas Day and Boxing Day (25 and 26 December) The centre of Christmas is not Christmas Eve but Christmas Day, when people open their presents (brought by Santa Claus down the chimney into the fireplace), some 25% attend a service in the church (a mass, a carol service). At midday they eat Christmas dinner, i. e. roast turkey and Christmas pudding. On Christmas Eve, the annual office parties are given. Holly and mistletoe are more frequent Christmas decorations in homes and offices than Christmas trees with candles and glass baubles. The plastic variety of Christmas trees is now preferred to real trees by 65%, and 15% do not get any tree at all. Holly is an evergreen with shiny pointed leaves and red berries. Mistletoe, which grows on trees, is an evergreen plant with small white berries. An old custom is hanging a sprig up so that people can stand underneath and kiss each other. The Royal Family spends Christmas at Sandringham Castle. The Queen's Christmas Message is broadcast on Christmas Day at 3 p. m. 60% of manual workers and pensioners, and 40% of the upper and middle class, and more people in the Midlands than in the Southeast tune in. On Boxing Day, in the old days it was customary to give Christmas boxes - gifts or money - to servants and tradesmen, postmen, dustmen and paperboys. Now at Christmas some 40% of people give money to a Christmas charity. Before and during Christmas, carols are sung. Many of them celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. They were first sung in the 14th century. Among the traditional ones are God Rest You Merry Gentlemen; While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night, among those from the 19th century are Good King Wenceslas; O Come All Ye Faithful; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; O Little Town of Bethlehem. They are also sung at special carol services. Throughout Christmas, the Nativity Scene is on display in churches. Sending Christmas cards is a custom dating back to the early 20th century. On New Year's Eve (or Hogmanay) in Scotland, Auld Lang Syne (the words are by Robert Burns, 1759-96) is sung at midnight both at home and at large gatherings of people in towns and cities. The traditional food is haggis, a dish made mainly from a sheep's heart, lungs and liver and boiled in a bag made from the stomach (like "tlačenka"). It is also traditionally eaten on Burns Night, 25 January, the birthday of the Scottish poet, when bagpipe music is played and whisky is consumed. At Easter, only a few people send Easter cards. On Good Friday, remembered as the day Christ was crucified, many people eat hot-cross buns - fruit buns decorated with a simple cross. On Easter Sunday, children are given chocolate Easter eggs packed in coloured foil - millions of them are sold. Eggs represent the life and the start of spring. In
America, the children believe that the Easter Bunny goes from house to house while they are sleeping and hides Easter eggs in each house or garden, and children then try to find them. An Easter tradition which dates from the days of Edward I is the distribution of the Royal Maundy by the queen on Maundy Thursday to commemorate Christ's washing of His disciples' feet as a symbol of service. She presents pennies whose amount and number of recipients matches the Queen's age, e. g. when she was 77, she presented 77p worth of silver coins (lp, 2p, 3p and 4p pieces) to 77 pensioners, men and women, chosen for their outstanding service to Church and community, and to each choirboy. Collectors will pay about ₤100 for the set but it is rare for any recipient to sell it. Each year the ceremony is held in a different cathedral. On Summer Bank Holiday very many people go to the seaside. In Northern Ireland St Patrick's Day (17 March) is also a public holiday, and instead of the Spring Bank Holiday, the Protestants celebrate, with a march through the streets on 12 July, Orangemen's Day, to commemorate the victory of the Protestant King William III (or William of Orange) over the Roman Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. There are sometimes riots in the streets - violent clashes with the Irish Catholics - on this day. Unlike in the Czech Republic, if a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it is not "lost", there is an extra holiday on the next day. Some days are not holidays, but are generally known. On St. Valentine's Day (February 14) the British spend millions on flowers and chocolates, and the Royal Mail delivers ten million more letters (with Valentine cards). May Day (the first day of May) has different connotations than in Europe, where for years it was an occasion for socialist celebrations (in the Soviet Union involving military parades). In England for centuries the arrival of spring was celebrated by traditional outdoor events: (1) dancing round the maypole: the dancers are usually children holding coloured ribbons attached to the top of the pole; the maypoles, however, are now seen less often. (2) choosing a May Queen (or Queen of the May), a pretty girl who wears a crown of flowers and may be driven through the town or village in an open carriage. Halloween (also All Hallows Eve), on 31 October, began in the USA but the practice is now getting common in Britain also. Children have parties, dress up as witches, make lanterns of pumpkins and play trick or treat - they visit houses (usually of friends only) and promise to play a "trick" unless they are given a "treat", i. e. sweets or money. For Remembrance Day see 17 World War I.