Here’s part 2 of this episode all about special days and celebrations in the UK throughout the year. Below you will find a transcript and videos.
1st and 29th – Bank holidays. There are two Mondays in May when people have the day off work or school and (if we’re lucky!) spend some time outdoors enjoying the spring sunshine. The first bank holiday in May is known as the May Day holiday and it is vaguely associated with workers rights (like Labour Day) although this is not expressly stated as the purpose of the day. As I said earlier – officially all bank holidays were set up to give workers some time off.
The second May bank Holiday is known as the Spring Bank Holiday or the Late May Bank Holiday and this one is associated with the beginning of Summer. It always lands on the last Monday of May and often there’s good weather. Typically what happens on this day is that people are surprised by the good weather which leads to a feeling of optimism about the coming summer. People say things like “Ah, summer’s going to be great – let’s have barbecues!” and then they wait for summer to arrive and they wait and wait, and it stays cloudy and rainy, and they wait and it rains and they wait all the way until late September before realising that Summer is over and the week of sunshine we had at the beginning was all we were going to get, and then suddenly at the end of September the sun comes back and we have what’s known as an Indian summer – that’s a late summer.
Usually at the end of May we have the F.A. Cup Final – that’s England’s most traditional football cup and it’s pretty special because all the teams in all the leagues get to play each other and the final happens at Wembley Stadium, and it’s usually pretty sunny when it happens.
Also throughout May you can check out the Brighton Fringe Festival. It’s a great time to visit Brighton, which is just one hour from London and is on the south coast of England – so you can enjoy the seaside (even though the beach is made of stones not sand) and all the attractions of an English seaside resort. In the festival there are comedy shows and other attractions and most of it is free. I did a few podcasts from the Brighton Fringe a few years ago when I was performing comedy there. You can check those episodes out here:
13th – The Queen’s Official Birthday. Although the Queen’s real birthday is on the 21st of April, it has been a tradition since 1748 to celebrate the king or queen’s birthday in June.
A military parade known as Trooping the Colour is held in London, attended by the Royal Family. I think the reason the monarch’s official birthday is marked in June is simply because there’s a better chance of good weather for the military parade. It’s as simple as that.
19th – Father’s Day. Father’s Day is a day to show appreciation to fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers and fathers-in-law. Many people in the UK give their father a card or gift, have a meal together or go out for drinks. We don’t do it in my family! This is probably because of a feminist idea that men already have plenty of days and blah blah blah.
21st – Summer solstice – midsummer’s eve – the longest night of the year. The ancient monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire has its true moment in the sun on this day as people celebrate the longest day and shortest night of the year. Stand inside the monument facing northeast, toward a stone outside the circle called the Heel Stone, and you’ll see the sun rise like a blazing fire – a sight that brings in pagans and sun-lovers of all beliefs! In fact, there’s usually some sort of pagan celebration at Stonehenge on this evening. Everywhere else we just enjoy a really long evening, with long shadows and light until about 11pm or more. Summers in the UK are fantastic for long days and despite what I said earlier about barbecues we do have some wonderful weather sometimes, and I have good memories of these never-ending summers with days that just went on forever. Sitting in a pub garden all evening on the 21st is a particular pleasure.
Wed 21st to Sun 25th – Glastonbury Festival
This is the biggest music festival in Europe and is now one of the most important music festivals in the world. Every year about 200,000 people travel to a farm in Glastonbury in the Somerset countryside not far from Stonehenge in the South West of England. It used to be a hippy music festival a bit like Woodstock. These days it’s a place to check out music and all kinds of other performance art, and all the biggest bands of the moment perform there. It tends to be headlined by the biggest names in music. Recently we’ve had groups like The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Beyonce and Kanye West headlining the event. The BBC usually cover Glastonbury throughout the festival. In 2017 one of the headliners will be Radiohead. We don’t know who is going to headline on Saturday yet – it might be Guns & Roses, Rihanna, The Stone Roses, The Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran – the list of speculations goes on.
I’ve never been to Glasto, but I almost always watch it on TV and I have to say it’s often a bit of a disappointing experience, probably due to the poor sound quality you get through recording a live concert and putting it on TV. It completely lacks the power and punch that you get from seeing someone live. It just sounds like you can’t hear the drums properly and it all sounds weak and clinical sounding. There’s nothing like seeing music live and I think to really enjoy Glasto you need to be there, soaking up the atmosphere, up to your knees in muck. I expect it’s not what it used to be.
Here’s a podcast episode about music festivals from the archives teacherluke.co.uk/2009/10/20/summer-music-festivals/
Link to the biggest music festivals www.festicket.com/magazine/top-20-music-festivals-in-the-uk/
26th – Eid. Marking the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan, Eid is widely celebrated by Muslim communities in the UK. Each community usually organises its own events, but there are some large celebrations and feasts in city centres, such as in London and Birmingham. I’ve never been part of an Eid celebration but I remember when I worked in London that a lot of my students fasted during Ramadan, and then disappeared completely during the Eid celebrations! I wonder what it is like to go without food during the daylight hours – it must be pretty hard. I know that fasting is an important part of Islam (one of the 5 pillars of Islam) and it’s all about abstaining from earthly and material pleasures and focusing on prayer and a sort of spiritual detox. It must be a big celebration when it’s over and you can eat during the day again!
Monday 3 July – Sunday 16 July – Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Wimbledon, the world’s oldest tennis tournament, is a summer highlight for sports fans. Held at the All England Club in London since 1877, Wimbledon is known for the tennis players’ white dress code and the tradition for spectators to eat strawberries and cream. For me this is usually something you watch in the evenings while eating summer food like a melon or something. It’s also another opportunity to be disappointed by British sportsmen, although Andy Murray did win in 2013 and this year too. Well done Andy.
Also during the summer we have cricket test matches going on. A test match is one game of cricket that happens as part of a test series. So, a series is 5 matches, and the series goes on throughout the summer – it can take a couple of months for a series to be completed. Each test match lasts up to 5 days. The biggest rivalry we have is with Australia and we regularly play a test match series against the Aussies called The Ashes – it’s been going for decades and it’s a big deal if you like cricket. You might think that 5 days is rather long for a game (and yes they pretty much play all day – from about 10AM until the light fails in the evening – they even stop for tea in the afternoon) but it’s really great when there’s a test match going on because you can keep up with it during the day (just quickly check the scores or listen to it on the radio here and there) and then watch the highlights of the day’s play on the telly in the evening. I should do a whole episode about cricket.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 4-26 August 2017 (5th–29th August 2016). The largest arts festival in the world, ‘the Fringe’ features over 40,000 performances and more than 2,500 shows at 250 venues. Any type of performance may participate, across theatre, comedy, music and dance, and many students visit Edinburgh to put on their own shows. For more, read our Edinburgh Festivals guide.
Notting Hill Carnival. August Bank Holiday Weekend – last weekend of August (27-28th August 2016) Held in west London over a bank holiday weekend, Notting Hill Carnival is Europe’s biggest street festival. Around 1 million people go to see colourful floats and dancers in flamboyant costumes, hear music from salsa to reggae, and taste Caribbean food from street stalls. Bring your party spirit, enough cash and a lot of patience – it can be very crowded.
Check it out – I did a video podcast about Notting Hill Carnival.
18-20th Sept 2017 (16th–20th 2016) London Fashion Week. London Fashion Week sets the global fashion agenda, alongside the other big shows in Paris, Milan and New York. These fashion shows during fashion week are mainly for industry insiders, but you can get tickets to London Fashion Weekend for a taste of the fashion show experience. There are two each year – the first London Fashion Week is in February (3rd weekend). Students get involved too, with events including student and graduate showcases and networking opportunities.
31st – Halloween. The modern way of celebrating Halloween is based on the Christian feast of All Hallows’ Eve and the Celtic festival of Samhain. Children go trick-or-treating (knocking on neighbours’ doors to ask for sweets) or carve pumpkins, while older students go to parties and Halloween events at pubs, clubs or Students’ Unions. The important thing is to dress up as gruesomely as you dare!
All month – Movember. If you’re seeing more moustaches than usual, you’re not imagining it – throughout November, the charity campaign of Movember invites men to grow a moustache and raise awareness of men’s health issues. It’s a bit annoying and I don’t really know why.
5th – Bonfire night. Historically, this marks the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up the House of Lords and assassinate King James I in 1605 – the failed ‘gunpowder plot’ is remembered in the children’s rhyme ‘Remember, remember the 5th of November; gunpowder, treason and plot’. Today, it is commemorated with spectacular displays of fireworks.
There will be firework displays in most cities, but one of the best places to be is in the medieval town of Lewes, East Sussex – here, the fireworks are accompanied by colourful parades, music, costumes and the traditional ‘guy’, an effigy made of straw or paper to burn on the bonfire.
Find out more in my episode about Guy Fawkes Night. teacherluke.co.uk/2016/11/05/from-the-archives-halloween-guy-fawkes-night-5th-november/
11th – Remembrance Day. Each year in the UK, 11 November is a memorial day to honour those who lost their lives in battle – especially during World War 1, so many peace campaigners also support the event. The Royal British Legion charity sells paper poppy flowers to raise funds for veterans and their families (the poppy is a symbol of Remembrance Day), and it is customary to observe a two-minute silence at 11am. Around this time it’s common to see people wearing red poppies on their shirt or jacket. In TV studios they have boxes of poppies on hand so that nobody appears on TV without one, which would not be a good idea because it would make you look disrespectful.
30th – St Andrew’s Day (Scotland). Honouring its patron saint, St Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s national day. There are many events across Scotland, including traditional meals, poetry readings, bagpipe music and country dancing. This is a great opportunity to go to a ceilidh – a party with Gaelic folk music and dancing. Fortunately, there is usually a ‘dance caller’ to teach the steps! I’ve never done it, but apparently this is a thing in Scotland!
Thurs Oct 19 2017 – Diwali. Diwali (or Deepavali) is the Festival of Lights for Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities. Cities including Leicester (which hosts one of the biggest Diwali celebrations outside India), London and Nottingham have extravagant street parties with traditional food, music, crafts and dancing – and of course, displays of lights, lanterns, candles and fireworks.
Throughout December, there are loads of winter markets and festive visitor attractions across the UK. Look out for events advertised in local magazines like TimeOut!
Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park. In addition to a traditional Christmas market, this huge site features carnival rides, two circuses, an ice skating rink, fake snow and an exhibition of ice sculptures… and enough hot chocolate and mulled wine to keep you warm.
Jamie Oliver’s Mulled Wine recipe www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/recipe/jamie-s-mulled-wine/
Hogwarts in the Snow, a wintry version of the Harry Potter tour at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden (near London). Watch snow fall over the original model of Hogwarts castle, and see the Great Hall set for Christmas dinner.
Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market, the largest German market outside Germany and Austria, complete with glühwein (mulled wine), wursts (sausages), pretzels and sweet treats. You can also shop for unique gifts from local artists at the Craft Fair.
The winter festival at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Usually an educational ecology park, in December the Eden Project is transformed with Christmas trees, a choir, real reindeer and an ice rink, with ice skating classes for all ages.
Belfast’s Christmas Market. If you’re studying in Northern Ireland, visit the multicultural market outside Belfast’s City Hall for festive food and drink from around the world, crafts, gifts and Christmas decorations.
Pantomimes. The traditional Christmas ‘panto’ is a mix of slapstick comedy and musical theatre, with silly costumes and audience participation. Pantomimes are usually for children, but it’s worth seeing one for a uniquely British experience.
24th–1st Jan – Hanukkah. Jewish communities across the UK will be celebrating Hanukkah (Chanukah), the Festival of Lights. In London, the Menorah in Trafalgar Square is the largest in Europe. It’s usually lit by the Mayor of London on the first day of Hanukkah, at an event with free doughnuts and live music.
25th – Christmas. Most people in the UK celebrate Christmas, even if they are not religious. There will be Christmas trees, presents, carol singing, mulled wine (warm, spiced red wine), mince pies (small pies with a sweet fruit filling) and if it snows, snowmen and snowball fights! The traditional Christmas dinner is a whole roast turkey with roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy and Christmas pudding for dessert.
26th – Boxing Day. The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, and is a bank holiday in the UK. It’s believed to have been named after the ‘Christmas box’ of money or gifts which employers used to give to servants and tradesmen. Nowadays, there are no particular Boxing Day customs, but most people spend the day with their families, going for a walk, watching sports or eating the Christmas leftovers.
May 4th is unofficially Star Wars day, just because of the date “May the fourth be with you”. I think some Star Wars fans get together and there might be special screenings but as far as I can see it’s just a chance to post something on Facebook wishing everyone a happy Star Wars day.
A listener to this podcast wanted me to mention Sea Odyssey: Giant Spectacular – a kind of street theatre event that happens sometimes in Liverpool. That looks fantastic.
There are many arts festivals too, where you can sample literature, theatre, arts & craft, dance and poetry. Click here to read more about arts festivals www.artsfestivals.co.uk/festival-details