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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
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
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
«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 had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
«Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.»
flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the
Lord shone round about
them; and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good
tidings of great joy, which
shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is
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good will toward men.