The British do not always treat all holidays with such enthusiasm as Americans do, except Christmas. The British do not decorate their houses for the holidays and this can really make your house stand out on a quiet road and make you a target. It is advisable to decorate your house on the inside for the holidays, not to draw attention to your house because Americans are often targeted by thieves. Christmas is one holiday that they will decorate their homes so feel free to join in. This is why I only suggest you bring your Christmas decorations.
The Bank Holidays are what we would call Federal Holidays. The banks are closed and shop hours are limited to Sunday hours (11-4). Traffic is often bad on the Friday before the bank holidays as people like to go away for a nice break. The bank holidays are:
New Year’s Day (falls on the next business day if on a weekend)
Early May bank holiday (first Monday of May)
Spring bank holiday (last Monday of May)
Summer bank holiday (last Monday of August)
Changing the Clocks
The U.K. changes their clocks forward the last Sunday in March and backwards the Last Sunday in October whereas the U.S. changes their clocks the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November.
While the English do hold fireworks in London for the New Year or the local pub might have an event on, the English do not hold this or many other holidays with the same importance as Americans do.
Burns Night- 25 January
This is not a holiday that the English celebrate as Robert Burns was an eighteenth century Scottish poet but that doesn’t mean you cannot have your own Burns night. You can go to the local butcher and buy haggis. Scots like to say that haggis is a small Scottish animal with one set of legs shorter than the other so it won’t fall of the mountain. If I tell you what is in the haggis you won’t try it so if that may put you off skip onto the next paragraph. Haggis is a sheep heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices which is put into an animal’s stomach. It is not sold in the U.S. I like it, it tends to be a spicy meat, so those that think the food over here is bland, and I think you might like haggis.
They will also have neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes) with their haggis. You will see people drink scotch whiskey, eating haggis, tatties and neeps and for dessert Tipsy Laird. They say grace, toast the haggis, and read out Burns' poems and toast the lassies. If you are invited, make sure you go as it is sure to be a good night.
Just to provide you with more confusion, the British celebrate Mother's Day in 3 weeks before Easter whereas Americans celebrate it in May. They generally get their mother a card and perhaps go out to lunch. Just be aware when you are going out around this time because the restaurants will be busy. Oddly enough Americans and British celebrate Father's Day on the same day.
Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday
Pancake Day is also known as Shrove Tuesday. It is the day before Ash Wednesday and starts the celebration of Lent. The history behind it is that they would make pancakes to use up the stuff in the pantry because during Lent you are supposed to abstain from sweets.
My husband and I try to remember when Pancake Day is and celebrate it. The first time we did this was after his accident and I had to take him to an appointment so I said that we should have pancakes for lunch. He said that we should have them after lunch. I was thinking that it would be too much to have lunch and pancakes so I went to the kitchen and got out my American cookbook and my English cookbook and show him both the pictures. That’s when I figured out their pancakes are different than ours.
The pancakes that they make are more like crepes, here is a good recipe for them. Typical fillings will be lemon and sugar or something savoury like sausage meat.
Happy Pancake Day!
Again another holiday that they do not do as much as we would, perhaps go to church but not in your Sunday best! The Easter baskets are growing in popularity. Some National Trust and English Heritage places hold Easter egg hunts.
St Patrick's Day- 17 March
I know what you are thinking, let's go out and celebrate St Patrick’s Day since we are so close to Ireland. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. St Patrick was British but was enslaved and sent to Ireland in 400 B.C. He converted to Christianity and is famed for spreading the word to the Irish. So don't expect there to be much fuss over here for that. Also, it is not customary over here to pinch people if they are not wearing green. The St Patrick’s Day as we know it was manufactured in America by Irish Americans. The Irish saw it as an opportunity to boost tourism so it is best to go to Ireland for St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
However London does have a parade which is free on the weekend closest to the holiday.
A huge ceremony takes place every year at Windsor Castle for the Garter Service that dates back to 1348. New knights take an oath and are invested with the insignia of the Order of Garter. There are only 24 knights and one can only be replaced when one has passed away. The Queen and the knights wear blue velvet robes, black velvet hats and white plumes (feathers). Also the Military Knights of Windsor who are retired and live in Windsor Castle take part as well. It is a great chance to see the royals!
I like that Windsor feels more that it is a living community rather than a museum. There are almost 100 people that live here.
You can see pictures from when I went in 2014 here.
A limited number of tickets is available for members of the public to stand inside the precincts of Windsor Castle and watch the procession to St. George's Chapel. Apply between 1 Jan and 1 March by sending an email to Garter day firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a service so its best to be respectful and quiet while it goes on. It is also a a great day out. Get there for 11 am to join the queue but they do not pack people like sardines so you can bring a camping chair and a pack a picnic (not a large basket) and enjoy. It is all very civilized. Also its free!
St George's Day- 23 April
St George is the patron saint of England. The English flag is St George’s cross. This was used by Richard the Lion Heart in the 12th century and his soldiers wore it during battle to distinguish themselves from each other. St George was a Roman soldier who protested the Romans torturing the Christians (he was a Christian) and died for his beliefs. There is a legend of St George slaying a dragon and saving a princess. St George is also the patron of scouting.[i] St George never came to England but is the patron saint for many other countries.
St George’s Day is celebrated on the 23rd of April but is not a public holiday. It is also not celebrated as much as St Patrick’s Day is. It used to be celebrated but the popularity waned after the Union of Scotland and England and some people are afraid that others will take offense. Some traditions to celebrate St George’s Day include wearing a rose in one’s lapel; fly or adorn St George’s flag or some pubs will have garlands with St George’s cross.
Looking for something to do to celebrate St George’s Day, check out this website. Here are some activities for the kids!
[i] St George’s Day, “St George’s Day- A Day for England,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.stgeorgesday.com/
Fourth of July
As Americans, we celebrate the 4th of July because it is the day in 1776 we adopted the Declaration of Independence which was finally signed by all members on 2 August 1776. The colonists felt that they wanted to become independent because the King in Great Britain was raising their taxes and increasing the rules that they had to follow.[i] It is not celebrated over here except on the bases. The British would not celebrate the loss of the colonies.
[i] Fact Monster, “Independence Day,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.factmonster.com/spot/independenceday1.html
Halloween- 31 Oct
Halloween is not as celebrated in England as it is in the States.
You will not see the British decorate their houses(this goes for other holidays except for Christmas). You might see the odd jack-o-lantern but that is it. They might take their children out to trick-or-treat usually between 5-8. Also when they dress up, they most likely wear costumes of scary things such as ghosts, witches and skeletons not whatever you would like a in the US. Here is more history on the occasion.
Just because a house doesn’t have its front light on doesn’t mean it is not participating in Halloween so if they are not participating they just won’t answer the door. Sometime teens are naughty and if you don’t give them treats, they will egg your house.
If you don’t want to stick out in your English neighbourhood, you could just put a jack-o-lantern on your doorstep and decorate the inside of your house.
There are other ways to celebrate:
Have a Halloween party and invite your British friends over to see what the fuss is all about!
There are some activities during this week as it is half term for the children attending British schools.
Trick or Treat!
Bonfire Night- 5 November
Remember, remember the fifth of November. In 1605, there was a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. There were 13 Catholic people involved but the most commonly known is Guy Fawkes. The British celebrate this with fireworks, bonfires and effigies being burned.[i] It is worth going to a local celebration to take part.
[i][i]Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night, “Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.bonfirenight.net/
Remembrance day comes once a year (11 Nov) and it is the same as our Veteran’s day. It is not a public holiday so if it falls on a weekday, it will be celebrated on the next Sunday.
You will see people wearing poppies during this month and there will poppy wreath around war memorials. The British wear poppies in remembrance of those that were killed in WWI, WW2 and other conflicts. The reason why they wear the poppies is because they were the first to flower on the battlefields were the worst fighting had taken place.
There are ceremonies all over the country and they usually take place at the local church and the war memorial in that town.
They have a ceremony and generally read the poem ‘For The Fallen’, here is the most famous stanza:
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them."
They have a 2 minute silence at 11 am which is observed at the war memorials.
I usually spend this day with my Brownies and the local Scouts at the local church in a ceremony with the RAF soldiers that are stationed nearby. I think it is a great way to show our appreciation for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
You might also like to attend the services at Madingley American Cemetery. Remembrance Sunday is like our Veterans Day but it is not a Bank Holiday. Nearly all villages will have some sort of ceremony or service at the local church and lay wreaths at the war memorials. You will see people wearing poppies on their lapels during the month of November. Veteran’s day is a good day to visit the Cambridge American Memorial Cemetery. They hold a service and is the reason why the bases are here.
[i] The Royal British Legion, “Remembrance Sunday,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance/the-nation-remembers/remembrance-sunday
Why don't the English celebrate Thanksgiving?
In 2012, I had my first Thanksgiving in England. This was the first
time that I have ever cooked a meal like this for my family. I have
decided that this was a tradition that I am going to add to my English
family. I always tried to explain that Christmas is important as
Thanksgiving to Americans.
It will be hard for you to explain to
English people why Thanksgiving is so important to Americans, believe me
I have tried. But if I answer the question why they don’t celebrate it
and provide some historical facts about Thanksgiving, then that might
help you to spread the word.
The easy answer is that it is an American holiday that dates back to when the pilgrims came over.
pilgrims had the ‘first Thanksgiving’ to give thanks to God for the
safe journey to the New World in 1621. They brought enough food from
England to feed themselves for a year. Their first harvest failed and
they almost died but they learned skills from the Wampanoag tribe on how
to grow corn and catch eels.
It became an federal and public holiday in 1863 and falls on the 4th Thursday of November.
The reasons why Americans celebrate it/why it is so important:
Most people have the day after Thanksgiving off so they end up having 4 day weekend.
Begins the holiday season.
Time to spend with friends and family.
Time to be thankful for living in a country that offers us freedom and opportunity.
do celebrate Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Devon because this is where
Pilgrims left England in the Mayflower sailed from to escape religious
persecution. Here is a link to one of the reports of its celebration. Its aimed to expatriates that live over here.
English do have some sort of ceremonies around this time that are
amongst the same line as Thanksgiving but they are not public holidays.
November is a month for remembrance, we remember those that have given
the ultimate sacrifice. We also celebrate the Harvest around this
A few things that my family took away, they
were happy to ensure that we carry on this tradition for me. They liked
Thanksgiving because whilst it is like Christmas, it is not stressful
and it makes it nice to spend the time with the family. I will be
celebrating Thanksgiving on the Saturday after but I will continue to
celebrate it as I integrate it into our traditions as a family.
If you have some English friends, open your Thanksgiving table to them and open their eyes up to a whole new world.
Christmas- 25 December
England is a Christian country. Families go to midnight mass or to church on Christmas morning to celebrate the birth of Christ and many churches hold carol services. If you want to catch a glimpse of the Queen, go to Sandringham Estate and watch the royal family walk to church on Christmas Day (you can also do this every Sunday unitl the second Sunday in February). There will be many carol services around. A famous service is on Christmas Eve at Kings College in Cambridge. It is free but you must wait in line from 8:30 a.m.
Many families have crackers (filled with paper hats, toys and jokes and you pull both ends until they pop!) on Christmas that we open by holding the end of one cracker and pulling your neighbor's end. In my family, we wear the hats that come in the crackers until the end of the Queen's Christmas Broadcast. The cracker was designed by Thomas J. Smith in London in 1847.[i]
Most families eat their Christmas dinner in the early afternoon and have a light meal in the evening on Christmas. A Christmas meal usually consists of roast turkey, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, gravy, sausages wrapped in bacon, cranberries and bread sauce. Afterwards they will have Christmas pudding and mince pies.[ii]
They don't say "Happy Holidays" here; they say "Merry Christmas."
They send Christmas cards which were originally commission by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843 and came to America in 1875.[iii] If you buy the square ones they sell here, it will cost you more to send them through the U.S. mail because the machines have troubles handling them.
The Christmas tree comes from 15th century Livonia (Estonia and Latvia). The Christmas tree became popular in England in 1841. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought one from Germany and it was illustrated in a newspaper with them standing around it with their children.[iv] The Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square has been provided by Norway since 1947 to say thank you for the support in WWII.[v] It is bad luck to have your Christmas tree up past the 5th of January or past the 12 days of Christmas.[vi]
They believe in Santa but call him Father Christmas. He wears a red suit but in Victorian and Tudor times he wore a green suit. Father Christmas started creeping up in Victorian times along with cards but the concept of Santa came from Turkey. Children leave mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas and a carrot for his reindeer. Christmas stockings became popular in 1870. Coins are usually found in the bottom of the stockings because coins would fall down the chimney from Father Christmas’ pockets and the stockings would catch them.
Christmas Eve Superstitions:
An old wives' tale says that bread baked on Christmas Eve will never go mouldy.
At midnight, a certain rose slowly opens and re-closes its petals to salute the birthday of Jesus.
Also at midnight, all the sheep in the fields turn and bow towards the East.
Whatever you do, I hope that you too have a Merry Christmas!
[i] Tom Smith Crackers, “What are Crackers,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.tomsmithcrackers.co.uk/
[ii] Go U.K. About.com, “Christmas Traditions in the UK- Trukey and All the Trimmings,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://gouk.about.com/od/foodanddrink/ss/ChristmasfoodUK_2.htm
[iii] The Card Company, “The History of the Christmas Card,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.card-company.co.uk/the-history-of-the-christmas-card.php
[iv] BBC, “Queen Victoria Popularised Our Christmas Traditions,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/berkshire/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_9286000/9286971.stm
[v] London. Gov.uk, “Christmas in Trafalgar Square,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/arts-culture/trafalgar-square/trafalgar-square-events/christmas-in-trafalgar-square
[vi] DIY Life, “When to Take Your Tree Down,” accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.diylife.com/2009/12/28/when-to-take-down-your-christmas-tree/
Boxing Day- 26 December
Boxing Day is another bank holiday that the British have off and it is always the day after Christmas. If that is on the weekend, the bank holiday will fall on the next weekday.
In Victorian times, tradesmen would come by and collect their boxes or gifts for their good service. It is a day where wealthy landowners gave their servants the day off with their families. They were given boxes and leftovers to take home with them. Churches would collect donations and distribute it to the poor.[i]
Now families often take this as another day to spend together with a quiet meal and watch sports such as fox hunting or go for a stroll in the winter sun. Also, sales usually begin on Boxing Day (U.K.'s equivalent to Black Friday) so shops can clear out their Christmas stock just like in the States so it can be very busy!
[i] About.com “What is Boxing Day?” accessed June 27, 2013, http://britishfood.about.com/od/christmas/p/boxingday.htm