UK Customs and Traditions
Celebrating Saint George's Day in England
British Embassy, Washington D.C., 4/21/2008
Happy Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday)
British Embassy, Washington D.C., 2/4/2020
Different Names Top Baby Lists Across the Pond in 2007
The British Embassy, Washington DC, 1/2/2020
Happy New Year 2008!
British Embassy, Washington D.C., 12/20/2007
Christmas in Britain from the Middle Ages to 2007
British Embassy, Washington D.C., 12/19/2007
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The US and UK share many of the same holidays and most are celebrated in similar fashions, such as New Years, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas to name a few.
The UK also has a number of holidays that the US has carried over, such as St. Patrick's Day and others that are rather unheard of in the United States, such as Boxing Day, Guy Fawkes Nights, Burns Night, St. George's Day, St. David's Day, St. Andrew's Day and Pancake Day.
The New Year is often launched with a party - either at home with family and friends or gathering at a pub or club. Merry-making begins on New Year's Eve and builds up to midnight. The stroke of midnight is the cue for much cheering, hooting, whistling, kissing and drinking toasts.
Tradition has it that the first person over the threshold on New Year's Day will dictate the luck brought to the household in the coming year. This is known as First Footing. At midnight on December 31, particularly in Scotland and northern England, "first footers" (traditionally a tall, dark and good-looking man) step over the threshold bringing the New Year's luck. The first footer usually brings a piece of coal, a loaf and a bottle of whiskey. On entering he must place the fuel on the fire, put the loaf on the table and pour a glass for the head of the house, all normally without speaking or being spoke to until he wishes everyone "A Happy New Year." He enters through the front door and leaves through the back door.
In Wales, the back door is opened to release the Old Year at the first stroke of midnight. It is then locked up to keep the luck in, and at the last stroke the New Year is let in at the front door.
In Scotland, the New Year remains the greatest of all annual festivals. Called "Hogmanay" (a word whose meaning has never been satisfactorily established), it's marked by an evening of drinking and merrymaking, culminating at the stroke of midnight when huge gatherings at Edinburgh's Tron Kirk and Glasgow's George Square greet the New Year by linking arms and singing "Auld Lang Syne."
Easter Day is named after the Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre, whose feast took place at the spring equinox. Easter is now the spring feast of the Christian Church, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. It falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25, according to the church calendar.
Traditionally Easter eggs, dyed and decorated or made of chocolate, are given as presents symbolizing new life and the coming of spring. Egg rolling competitions take place in northern Britain on Easter Monday; hard-boiled eggs are rolled down a slope, with the winner being - according to local preference - the one which rolls the furthest, survives the most rolls, or is successfully aimed between two pegs.
Like in the United States, Halloween is celebrated on October 31 and children dress up and go trick-or-treating and carve pumpkins. Although we commonly associate this practice with the United States, the custom originated in England as Mischief Night when children dared one "lawless night" of unpunished pranks.
Actually, Halloween with its witches, ghosts and goblins derives from the Celtic Old Year's Night - the nights it was said that all witches and spirits walked the earth.
In Britain, Christmas Day is spent at home, with family, and is regarded as a celebration of the family and it continuity (much like how it is spent in the United States). Preparations start well in advance with sending out Christmas cards and decorating a Christmas tree. Although now a firmly established tradition, the Christmas tree was first popularized by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who introduced the custom from his native Germany in 1840.
Presents are bought and wrapped and traditionally placed under the tree on Christmas Eve. Christmas is both a secular and a religious holiday, and many families attend a midnight service at church on Christmas Eve or celebrate Christmas in a church on Christmas morning.
The excitement begins for children on Christmas Eve, when they hand their stockings around the fireplace or at the foot of the bed for Father Christmas to fill with presents. The English Father Christmas or Santa Claus is first recorded in his traditional red and white outfit in a woodcut of 1653, but the story of Santa arriving in his reindeer-drawn sleigh and descending down the chimney with presents comes from the United States.
Find out what people eat on Christmas.
Boxing Day (December 26) is so-called because it is a time when tradespeople receive a Christmas box - some money in appreciation of the work they've carried out all year.
Traditionally it is a time for visiting family and friends and indulging in more feasting, Boxing Day is a popular day for football matches and other sporting events.
Learn About Other UK Holidays:
St. Andrew's Day
St. David's Day
St. Patrick's Day
St. George's Day
Guy Fawkes Night