U.K. Holidays: Religious and Secular, 2008

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Society and Culture > Calendar & Holidays

In England and Wales there are eight permanent bank and public holidays set by law. Six are bank holidays (New Year's Day, Easter Monday, May Day, Spring Holiday, Late Summer Holiday, Boxing Day). The other two are public holidays: Christmas Day and and Good Friday. Scotland has nine holidays. (New Year's Day, 2 January, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day, Spring Holiday, Summer Holiday, St. Andrew's Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day). Northern Ireland has 10 bank and public holidays. Seven are bank holidays (New Year's, St. Patrick's Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day, Spring Holiday, Late Summer Holiday). The other three are public holidays: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and Battle of the Boyne. All Jewish and Islamic holidays begin at sundown the day before they are listed here.

New Year's Day,
Tues., 1 Jan. A bank holiday in the United Kingdom, New Year's Day has its origin in Roman times, when sacrifices were offered to Janus, the two-faced Roman deity who looked back on the past and forward to the future.
(from Greek epiphaneia, "manifestation"), Sun., 6 Jan. Falls on the 12th day after Christmas and commemorates the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, as represented by the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the miracle of the wine at the marriage feast at Cana. One of the three major Christian festivals, along with Christmas and Easter. Epiphany originally marked the beginning of the carnival season preceding Lent, and the evening preceding it is known as Twelfth Night.
Thurs., 10 Jan. The month of Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic liturgical year. On the tenth day of the month, many Muslims may observe a day of fasting, known as Ashurah.
Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras),
5 Feb. Falls the day before Ash Wednesday and marks the end of the carnival season, which once began on Epiphany but is now usually celebrated the last three days before Lent. In France, the day is known as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), and the day is sometimes called Pancake Tuesday by the English because fats, which were prohibited during Lent, had to be used up.
Ash Wednesday,
6 Feb. The seventh Wednesday before Easter and the first day of Lent, which lasts 40 days. Having its origin sometime before A.D. 1000, it is a day of public penance and is marked in the Roman Catholic Church by the burning of the palms blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday. With the ashes from the palms the priest then marks a cross with his thumb upon the forehead of each worshipper.
Chinese New Year,
Thurs., 7 Feb., is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, the New Year is a time for family reunions. In the United States, however, many early Chinese immigrants arrived without their families, and found a sense of community by celebrating the holiday through neighborhood associations.
St. Valentine's Day,
Thurs., 14 Feb. The holiday's roots are in an ancient Roman fertility festival. Circa 496, Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day in honor of St. Valentine, but there are at least three different early saints by that name. How the day became associated with romance remains obscure, and is further clouded by various fanciful legends.
Leap Year Day,
Fri., 29 Feb. This is a leap year, which means that it has 366 days instead of the usual 365 days that an ordinary year has. An extra day is added in a leap year—February 29—which is called an intercalary day or a leap day. For more on this special day, read: Leap Year 101.
Palm Sunday,
16 March. Observed the Sunday before Easter to commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
St. Patrick's Day,
Mon., 17 March. has been a bank holiday in Northern Ireland since 1903 to honor St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland
Mawlid al-Nabi,
Thurs., 20 March. This holiday celebrates the birthday of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is fixed as the 12th day of the month of Rabi I in the Islamic calendar.
Purim (Feast of Lots),
Fri., 21 March. A day of joy and feasting celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from a massacre planned by the Persian minister Haman. According to the Book of Esther, the Jewish queen Esther interceded with her husband, King Ahasuerus, to spare the life of her uncle, Mordecai, and Haman was hanged on the same gallows he had built for Mordecai. The holiday is marked by the reading of the Book of Esther (the Megillah), by the exchange of gifts, and by donations to the poor.
Good Friday,
21 March. The Friday before Easter, it commemorates the Crucifixion, which is retold during services from the Gospel according to St. John. A feature in Roman Catholic churches is the Liturgy of the Passion; there is no Consecration, the Host having been consecrated the previous day. The eating of hot-cross buns on this day is said to have started in England.
Easter Sunday,
23 March. Observed in all Western Christian churches, Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or next after the vernal equinox (fixed at March 21) and is therefore celebrated between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. This date was fixed by the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
Easter Monday,
24 March. A bank holiday in the United Kingdom with little religious significance. Traditional secular activities on Easter Monday include egg rolling, Biddenden Dole, and hare pie scramble and bottle picking.
Passover (Pesach),
Sun., 20 April. The Feast of the Passover, also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, commemorates the escape of the Jews from Egypt. As the Jews fled, they ate unleavened bread, and from that time the Jews have allowed no leavening in their houses during Passover, bread being replaced by matzoh.
Orthodox Easter (Pascha),
Sun., 27 April. The Orthodox church uses the same formula to calculate Easter as the Western church, but bases it on the traditional Julian calendar instead of the more contemporary Gregorian calendar. For this reason Orthodox Easter generally falls on a different date than the Western Christian Easter.
Ascension Day,
Thurs., 1 May. The Ascension of Jesus took place in the presence of his apostles 40 days after the Resurrection. It is traditionally thought to have occurred on Mount Olivet in Bethany.
Early May Bank Holiday,
Mon., 5 May. A bank holiday in the United Kingdom that falls on the first Monday of May when people participate in May Day activities to celebrate the coming summer. Maypole dancing, local festivals, and floral decorations are all May Day customs.
Pentecost (Whitsunday),
11 May. This day commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles 50 days after the Resurrection. Whitsunday is believed to have come from "white Sunday," when, among the English, white robes were worn by those baptized on the day.
Late Spring Bank Holiday,
Mon., 26 May. A bank holiday in the United Kingdom that falls on the last Monday of May.
Shavuot (Hebrew Pentecost),
Mon., 9 June. This festival, sometimes called the Feast of Weeks, or of Harvest, or of the First Fruits, falls 50 days after Passover and originally celebrated the end of the seven-week grain-harvesting season. In later tradition, it also celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Battle of Boyne (Orangeman's Day),
Sat., 12 July. A public holiday celebrated in Northern Ireland to commemorate the 1690 victory of Protestant King William III of Orange over Roman Catholic forces.
Summer Bank Holiday,
Mon., 25 Aug. A bank holiday in the United Kingdom that falls on the last Monday of August.
First Day of Ramadan,
Tues., 2 Sept. This day marks the beginning of a month-long fast that all Muslims must keep during the daylight hours. It commemorates the first revelation of the Qur'an. Following the last day of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr is celebrated on Thurs., Oct. 2.
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year),
Tues., 30 Sept. This day marks the beginning of the Jewish year 5768 and opens the Ten Days of Penitence, which close with Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement),
Thurs., 9 Oct. This day marks the end of the Ten Days of Penitence that began with Rosh Hashanah. It is described in Leviticus as a Sabbath of rest, and synagogue services begin the preceding sundown, resume the following morning, and continue to sundown.
Shemini Atzeret (Assembly of the Eighth Day),
Tues., 21 Oct. This joyous holiday, encompassing Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), falls immediately after the seven days of Sukkot. It marks the end of the year's weekly readings of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) in the synagogue, and the beginning of the new cycle of reading.
Fri., 31 Oct. Eve of All Saints' Day, formerly called All Hallows and Hallowmass. Halloween is traditionally associated in some countries with customs such as bonfires, masquerading, and the telling of ghost stories. These are old Celtic practices marking the beginning of winter.
All Saints' Day,
Sat., 1 Nov. A Roman Catholic and Anglican holiday celebrating all saints, known and unknown.
First Sunday of Advent,
30 Nov. Advent is the season in which the faithful must prepare themselves for the coming, or advent, of the Savior on Christmas. The four Sundays before Christmas are marked by special church services.
St. Andrew's Day,
Mon., 1 Dec. A bank holiday in Scotland since 2007 celebrated on 30 November in honor of Saint Andrew, the patron Saint of Scotland. If 30 November falls on a weekend the next Monday is the bank holiday instead.
Eid al-Adha,
Tues., 9 Dec. Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates Abraham's willingness to obey God by sacrificing his son. Lasting for three days, it concludes the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims worldwide sacrifice a lamb or other animal and distribute the meat to relatives or the needy.
Hanukkah (Festival of Lights),
Mon., 22 Dec. This festival was instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. to celebrate the purification of the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been desecrated three years earlier by Antiochus Epiphanes, who set up a pagan altar and offered sacrifices to Zeus Olympius. In Jewish homes, a lamp or candle is lighted on each night of the eight-day festival.
Christmas (Feast of the Nativity),
Thurs., 25 Dec. The most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year, Christmas is observed as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. Christmas customs are centuries old. The mistletoe, for example, comes from the Druids, who, in hanging the mistletoe, hoped for peace and good fortune. Comparatively recent is the Christmas tree, first set up in Germany in the 17th century. Colonial Manhattan Islanders introduced the name Santa Claus, a corruption of the Dutch name St. Nicholas, who lived in fourth-century Asia Minor.
Boxing Day,
Fri., 26 Dec. A bank holiday in the United Kingdom that falls on the day after Christmas day. Traditionally, employers gave their employees a present on Boxing Day. Today, it is still customary for employers or householders to give money to workers.
Fri., 26 Dec. This secular seven-day holiday was created by Black Studies professor Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 in the U.S., to reaffirm African values and serve as a communal celebration among African peoples in the diaspora. Modeled on first-fruits celebrations, it reflects seven principles, the Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
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