Public holydays in Great Britain
There are only six public holidays a year in Great Britain, that is days on which people need not go in to work. They are: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Spring Bank Holiday and Late Summer Bank Holiday.
In Scotland, the New Year's Day is also a public holiday. Most of these holidays are of religious origin, though it would be right to say that for the greater part of the population they have long lost their religious significance and simply days on which people relax, eat, drink and make merry.
All the public holidays, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day observed on December 25th and 26th respectively, are movable, that is they do not fall on the same day each year. Good Friday and Easter Monday depend on Easter Sunday which falls on the first Sunday after a full moon on or after March 21st. The Spring Bank Holiday falls on the last Monday of May or on the first Monday of June, while the Late Summer Bank Holiday comes on the last Monday in August or on the first Monday in September, depending on which of the Mondays is nearer to June 1st and September 1st respectively.
Besides public holidays, there are other holidays, anniversaries and simply days, for example Pancake Day and Bonfire Night, on which certain traditions are observed, but unless they fall on a Sunday, they are ordinary working days.
NEW YEAR IN ENGLAND
In England the New Year is not as widely or as enthusiastically observed as Christmas. Some people ignore it completely and go to bed at the time as usual on New Year's Eve. Many others, however, do celebrate it in one way or another, the type of celebration varying much according to the local custom, family tradition and personal taste.
The most common type of celebration is a New Year party, either a family party or one arranged by a group of young people. This usually begins at about eight o'clock and goes on until the early hours of the morning. There is a lot of drinking, mainly beer, wine, gin and whisky; sometimes the hosts make a big bowl of punch which consists of wine, spirits, fruits juice and water in varying proportions. There is usually a buffet supper of cold meat, pies, sandwiches, savouries (a lovely dish of light food with a pleasant, served at the start or end of a meal), cakes and biscuits. At midnight the wireless is turned on, so that everyone can hear the chimes of Big Ben ( you know, it's the bell in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament) and on the hour a toast is drunk to the New Year. Then the party goes on...
Another popular way of celebrating the New Year is to go to a New Year's dance. Most hotels and dance halls hold a special dance on New Year's Eve. The hall is decorated, there are several different bands the atmosphere is very gay.
The most famous celebration is in London round the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus where crowds gather and sing and welcome New Year. In Trafalgar there is also a big crowd and someone usually falls into the fountain.
January 1st, New Year's Day, is not a public holiday, unfortunately for those who like to celebrate most of the night. Some people send New Year card and give presents but this is not a widespread custom. This is the traditional time for making "New Year resolutions", for example, to give up smoking, or to do morning exercises and etc. However, these are generally more talked about than put into practice.
THE NIGHT OF HOGMANAY
Nowhere else in Britain is the arrival of the New Year celebrated so wholeheartedly as in Scotland.
Throughout Scotland, the preparations for greeting the New Year start with a minor "spring-cleaning". Brass and silver must be glittering and fresh linen must be put on the beds. No routine work may be left unfinished; stockings must be darned, tears mended, clocks wound up, musical instruments turned, and pictures hung straight. In addition, all outstanding bills are paid, overdue letters written and borrowed books returned. At least, that is the idea!
Most important of all, there must be plenty of good things to eat. Innumerable homes "reek of a celestial grocery" - plum puddings and currant buns, spices and cordials, apples and lemons, tangerines and toffee. In mansion and farmhouse, in suburban villa and city tenement, the table is spread with festive fare. Essential to Hogmanay are "cakes and kebbuck" (oatcakes and cheese), shortbread and either black bun or currant loaf. These are flanked with bottles of wine and the "mountain dew" that is the poetic name of whisky.
In the cities and burghs, the New Year receives a communal welcome, the traditional gathering-place being the Mercat Cross, the hub and symbol of the old burgh life. In Edinburgh, however, the crowd has slid a few yards down the hill from the Mercat Cross to the Tron Kirk - being lured thither, no doubt, by the four-faced clock in the tower. As the night advances, Princes Street, the main street in Edinburgh, becomes as thronged as it normally is at noon, and there is growing excitement in the air. Towards midnight, all steps turn to the Tron Kirk, where a lively, swaying crowd awaits "the Chapplin o'the Twal" (the striking of the 12 o'clock). As the hand of the clock in the tower approach the hour, a hush falls on the waiting throng, the atmosphere grows tense, and then suddenly there comes a roar from a myriad throats. The bells peal forth, 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 bitter 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'!" (Sc. A good New Year to one and all!) 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-Footer must take something to eat as well as to drink, and after an exchange of greetings they go off again on their rounds.
TAR - BARREL BURNING
The custom of men welcoming in the New Year by carrying pans of blazing tar on their heads is still kept up at Allendale, Northumberland, on New Year's Eve. Each of the "carriers", in fancy costume, balances on his head the end of a barrel (or "kit") filled with inflammable material. The procession is timed to reach the unlit bonfire shortly before midnight, then each man in turn tosses his flaming "headgear" on to the bonfire, setting it ablaze. On the stroke of twelve, all join hands and dance around the fire, singing Auld Lang Syne (Sc. The days of long ago). The song by Robert Burns (1759 - 1796), Scotland's national poet.
Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min'?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
Chorus - For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll talk a cup o'kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
by Clement Clarke Moore
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he