List of British (UK) Holidays and Celebrations
There are many kinds of celebrations in Britain, from royal to religious and from traditional to more modern. This great country has been around for almost 1,000 years and was influenced by many other cultures before that, all helping to create the rich and vibrant celebrations that many enjoy every year.
New Year's Day (January 1)
The night before New Year's Day, many British citizens watch as the clock tower's minute hand finally reaches midnight. (The tower is incorrectly known as 'Big Ben', which is actually the name of the bell within the tower.) At this time, Big Ben rings in the new year.
Many people celebrate by either having parties at home, or by going out and partying with friends. Many people also make new years resolutions (as is customary in many other countries in the world). In Scotland, a common tradition is to sing 'Auld Lang Syne' at midnight to bring in the new year.
Hogmanay (December 31–January 2)
In Scotland, the term used for the New Year's celebration is 'Hogmanay', and it can last up until January 2 (which is usually considered a bank holiday). In some parts of England and in Scotland, it is considered good luck if a man is the first person to enter a friend's home on New Year's Day, and bad luck if a woman is the first. This is known as 'First Footing', and the friend that enters usually gives a small ceremonial gift.
Twelfth Night and Epiphany (January 5–6)
It is considered bad luck to have Christmas celebration up past the day of Epiphany, so many people used January 5 (Twelfth Night) to take them down. Some people host parties and serve Twelfth Night cakes which have had one dried pea and one dried bean baked into them. If you are one of the lucky party-goers who receive one of them in their slice of cake, you will be crowned "king" or "queen" of the evening.
Epiphany is a Christian holiday which celebrates the coming of the Magi after the birth of Christ. Some people attend a church service on this day.
Burns' Night (January 25)
Burns' Night is celebrated in honor of the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759–1796). He is best known for writing the song, 'Auld Lang Syne'. Many Scots will celebrate the evening by eating haggis and reading the poet's works.
Tu B'Shevat (Dates Vary)
Tu B'Shevat is a Jewish holiday that is held on the 15th day of Shevat (a month of the Jewish calendar). On this day, Jews celebrate trees and plants by eating fresh fruit (whatever is in season) and/or planting a tree. While it isn't a public holiday in Britain, some Jewish businesses may close.
Candlemas Day (February 2)
This day marks the middle of the winter season, from the shortest day of the year to the Spring Equinox. This day also celebrates the cleansing of Mary.
Valentine's Day (February 14)
This day is celebrated with the giving of gifts, as well as writing verses of love in newspapers and magazines for your special someone. Many couples will spend the evening celebrating with a special meal. Occasionally, children will send valentines to one another in celebration.
Purim (Dates Vary)
Purim is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar (a month of the Jewish calendar). This is the traditional day where Queen Esther saved the Jews from the decree of death in Babylon). Many gather together to read the story of the queen.
St. David's Day (March 1)
St. David's Day is to celebrate the man, Dewi Sant, who spread Christianity throughout Wales. Many will attend church services held in his honor.
St. Patrick's Day (March 17)
While most of the UK doesn't celebrate St. Patrick's Day (though there is a parade and festival in London), it is a very important religious holiday in Northern Ireland, set aside to remember the life and death of Saint Patrick, who was a missionary to Ireland.
Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) (Day Before Lent)
Many celebrate this day by eating pancakes, as the contain many ingredients that are inappropriate for lent (a Christian tradition of going without luxuries). Some communities also hold "pancake races" in which people run a distance while flipping pancakes in a frying pan. In order to win, a person must cross the finish line without burning breakfast.
The first day of lent is 40 days before Easter. Many people give up something they enjoy during Lent.
Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)
Mothering Sunday is a day where children generally honor their mothers by giving them a gift and a card, then take their mother out to a special brunch or lunch.
Maundy Thursday (Thursday Before Easter)
Maundy Thursday is a day to celebrate Jesus's last supper before his crucifixion and many people attend a church service on this day. The Church of England has a tradition of giving out ceremonial "Maundy Money" (or the "Queen's Maundy Money," or "Royal Maundy Money") to senior citizens. Two small pouches are given out. The red one contains a traditional sum for clothing and other necessities, while the white one contains coins representative of the reigning monarch's age.
Many people go to church on this Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This day is also celebrated by the giving of eggs, decorating eggs and Easter egg hunts, where eggs are hidden for children (and playful adults) to find.
April Fool's Day (April 1)
Much like other countries with this holiday, it is a day where it is socially acceptable for people to play practical jokes on each other.
St. George's Day, England's National Day (April 23)
Celebrating with parades, some people celebrate St. George who is said to have defeated a dragon. The day is celebrated with parades and parties and flags with "St. George's Cross" are flown.
May Day (May 1)
This day is celebrated beautifully with may poles and flowers. It is traditionally a celebration of spring and fertility.
Trooping the Colours (June)
Trooping the Colours is celebrated every year with the British Army and the regiments of the Commonwealth performing a ceremony that originated in the seventeenth century AD. The queen and a series of troops perform a procession also known as the "Queen's Birthday Parade."
Wimbledon Tennis Tournament (June)
People attend the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, which is considered the most prestigious of tennis championships.
Swan Upping (Third Week of July)
Many celebrate this day by going to the River Thames and watching a procession of swans and traditional boats.
Notting Hill Carnival (Last Monday in August)
On this day, there is a street festival that millions go to see and participate in every year. The parade include colorful floats, bands and many other attractions.
Harvest Festival (On or Near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon)
A day to celebrate the growth of crops on the land.
Halloween (October 31)
A day where people dress up, bob for apples and have bonfires. Many attend themed parties and children will occasionally go trick-or-treating (though this tradition was started elsewhere, despite Halloween having British origins).
Bonfire Night, a.k.a. Guy Fawkes Day (November 5)
This day is in celebration of the failed gunpowder attempt to blow up the house of Parliament in 1605. It is celebrated with fireworks at night. Many families will make effigies of Guy Fawkes and burn them in a bon fire either in their own back yards or with other members of the community. Since the day is so close to Halloween, many will combine the two holidays (maybe that is why there are so many Guy Fawkes masks available).
Remembrance Day (November 11)
This day recognizes the end of WWI. Many people wear a poppy in their pocket in remembrance.
St. Andrew's Day (November 30)
This is the celebrated national day of Scotland. Many Scots celebrate with special dances and festivals and the Scottish flag is flown throughout the country. A legend states that if women anxious to be married peel and orange at midnight (on the 29th to the 30th), they will find the first letter of their future husband's name.
Advent (December 1–24)
On the first 24 days of December, Advent celebrates the coming of Jesus.
Eid Milad ul-Nabi (Dates Vary)
Eid Milad ul-Nabi falls on either the 12th or 17th day of Rabi' al-awwal (an Islamic month of their calendar). On this day, Muslims celebrate the birth of their prophet Muhammad. Many use the day to remember the prophet and reflect on stories about his life. Some will even fast during the day. While it isn't a public holiday in the United Kingdom, some Muslims will close.
Christmas (December 25)
This day is celebrated by friends and family by giving gifts and going to a special Sunday service at church. Many celebrate the tradition of "Father Christmas" by giving gifts that he delivered during the night. Many families also share in a Christmas feast that may involve ham, minced pies and Yorkshire pudding!
At the beginning of the meal, each member of the family will cross arms and together pull Christmas poppers that will produce paper hats worn through the meal as well as other trinkets and jokes.
Boxing Day (December 26)
Traditionally, this is the day that servants were able to celebrate Christmas, as they were serving their masters the day before. I more recent times, people shop the "day after Christmas" sales!
Thank you for reading. If you know of additional holidays and celebrations, please let me know and I'll add them to the list.
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