Holidays and traditions in english-speaking countries

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the sirens scream the New Year is born!

Many families prefer to bring in the New Year at home, with music or dancing, cards or talk. As the evening advances, the fire is piled high for the brighter the fire, the better the luck. The members of the household seat themselves round the hearth, and when the hands of the clock approach the hour, the head of the house rises, goes to the main door, opens it wide, and holds it thus until the last stroke of midnight has died away. Then he shuts it quietly and returns to the family circle. He has let the Old Year out and the New Year in. now greetings and small gifts are exchanged, glasses are filled and already the First-Footers are at the door.

The First-Footer, on crossing the threshold, greets the family with “A gude New Year to ane and a!” or simply “A Happy New Year!” and pours out a glass from the flask he carries. This must be drunk to the dregs by the head of the house, who, in turn, pours out a glass for each of his visitors. The glass handed to the First-Footer himself must also be drunk to the dregs. A popular toast is:

“Your good health!”

The First-Footers must take something to eat as well as to drink, and after an exchange of greetings they go off again on their rounds.





Ill be your sweetheart, if you will be mine,

All of my life Ill be your Valentine …


Its here again, the day when boys and girls, sweethearts and lovers, husbands and wives, friends and neighbours, and even the office staff will exchange greetings of affections, undying love or satirical comment. And the quick, slick, modern way to do it is with a Valentine card.

There are all kinds, to suit all tastes, the lush satin cushions, boxed and be-ribboned, the entwined hearts, gold arrows, roses, cupids, doggerel rhymes, sick sentiment and sickly sentimentality its all there. The publishers made sure it was there, as Mr Punch complained, “there weeks in advance!”


Holidays and traditions in English speaking countries.


In his magazine, Punch, as long ago as 1880 he pointed out that no sooner was the avalanche of Christmas cards swept away than the publishers began to fill the shops with their novel valentines, full of “Hearts and Darts, Loves and Doves and Floating Fays and Flowers”.

It must have been one of these cards which Charles Dickens describes in Pickwick Papers. It was “a highly coloured representation of a couple of human hearts skewered together with an arrow, cooking before a cheerful fire” and “superintending the cooking” was a “highly indelicate young gentleman in a pair of wings and nothing else”.

In the last century, sweet-hearts of both sexes would spend hours fashioning a homemade card or present. The results of some of those painstaking efforts are still preserved in museums. Lace, ribbon, wild flowers, coloured paper, feathers and shells, all were brought into use. If the aspiring (or perspiring) lover had difficulty in thinking up a message or rhyme there was help at hand. He could dip into the quiver of Love or St. Valentines Sentimental Writer, these books giving varied selections to suit everyones choice. Sam Weller, of Pick wick Papers fame, took an hour and a half to write his “Valentine”, with much blotting and crossing out and warnings from his father not to descend to poetry.

The first Valentine of all was a bishop, a Christian martyr, who before the Romans put him to death sent a note of friendship to his jailers blind daughter.

The Christian Church took for his saints day February 14; the date of an old pagan festival when young Roman maidens threw decorated love missives into an urn to be drawn out by their boy friends.

A French writer who described how the guests of both sexes drew lots for partners by writing down names on pieces of paper noted this idea of lottery in 17th century England. “It is all the rage,” he wrote.

But apparently to bring the game into a family and friendly atmosphere one could withdraw from the situation by paying a forfeit, usually a pair of gloves.

One of the older versions of a well-known rhyme gives the same picture:


The rose is red, the violets are blue,

The honeys sweet and so are you.

Thou art my love and I am thine.

I drew thee to my Valentine.

The lot was cast and then I drew

And fortune said it should be you.


Comic valentines are also traditional. The habit of sending gifts is dying out, which must be disappointing for the manufacturers, who nevertheless still hopefully dish out presents for Valentines Day in an attempt to cash in. and the demand for valentines is increasing. According to one manufacturer, an estimated 30 million cards will have been sent by January, 14 and not all cheap stuff, either.

Holidays and traditions in English speaking countries.


“Our cards cost from 6d to 15s 6d”, he says, but “ardent youngsters” want to pay more.” They can pay more. I saw a red satin heart-shaped cushion enthroning a “pearl” necklace and earrings for 25s. Another, in velvet bordered with gold lace, topped with a gilt leaf brooch, was 21s (and if anyone buys them … well, it must be love!).

There are all kinds:

The sick joke reclining lady on the front, and inside she will “kick you in the ear”.

The satirical “You are charming, witty, intelligent, etc.”, and “if you believe all this you must be …” inside the card you find an animated cuckoo clock.

And the take-off of the sentimental “Heres the key to my heart … use it before I change the lock”.

And the attempts to send a serious message without being too sickly, ending with variations of “mine” and “thine” and “Valentine”.

So in the 20th century, when there are no longer any bars to communication between the sexes, the love missives of an older, slower time, edged carefully over the counters by the publishers and shopkeepers, still surge through the letter boxes.





Pancake Day is the popular name for Shrove Tuesday, the day preceding the first day of Lent. In medieval times the day was characterized by merrymaking and feasting, a relic of which is the eating of pancakes. Whatever religious significance Shrove Tuesday may have possessed in the olden days, it certainly has none now. A Morning Star correspondent who went to a cross-section of the people he knew to ask what they knew about Shrove Tuesday received these answers:

“Its the day when I say to my wife: Why dont we make pancakes? and she says, No, not this Tuesday! Anyway, we can make them any time.”

“It is a religious festival the significance of which escapes me. What I do remember is that it is Pancake Day and we as children used to brag about how many pancakes we had eaten.”

“Its pancake day and also the day of the student rags. Pancakes luscious, beautiful pancakes. I never know the date bears some relationship to some holy day.”

The origin of the festival is rather obscure, as is the origin of the custom of pancake eating.

Elfrica Viport, in her book on Christian Festivals, suggests that since the ingredients of the pancakes were all forbidden by the Church during Lent then they just had to be used up the day before.

Nancy Price in a book called Pagans Progress suggests that the pancake was a “thin flat cake eaten to stay the pangs of hunger before going to be shriven” (to confession).

Holidays and traditions in English speaking countries.


In his Seasonal Feasts and Festivals E. O. James links up Shrove Tuesday with the Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) festivals or warmer countries. These jollifications were an integral element of seasonal ritual for the purpose of promoting fertility and conquering the malign forces of evil, especially at the approach of spring.”

The most consistent form of celebration in the old days was the all-over-town ball game or tug-of-war in which everyone let rip before the traditional feast, tearing here and tearing there, struggling to get the ball or rope into their part of the town. It seems that several dozen towns kept up these ball games until only a few years ago.

E. O. James in his book records instances where the Shrove Tuesday celebrations became pitched battles between citizens led by the local church authorities.

Today the only custom that is consistently observed throughout Britain is pancake eating, though here and there other customs still seem to survive. Among the latter, Pancake Races, the Pancake Greaze custom and Ashbournes Shrovetide Football are the best known. Shrovetide is also the time of Student Rags.





On the 1st of March each year one can see people walking around London with leeks pinned to their coats. А leek is the national emblem of Wales. The many Welsh people who live in London or in other cities outside Wales like to show their solidarity on their national day.

The day is actually called Saint Davids Day, after а sixth century abbot who became patron saint of Wales. David is the nearest English equivalent to the saints name, Dawi.

The saint was known traditionally as “the Waterman”, which perhaps means that he and his monks were teetotallers. А teetotaller is someone who drinks n