The British year



New Year's Eve

All over Britain on 31 December there are New Year celebrations. Most people see in the New Year with friends and relations. At midnight on New Year's Eve, everybody joins hands and sings Auld Lang Syne, a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. In Scotland and the North of England, people go first footing. They call at friends' houses, trying to be the first person through the door after midnight. To symbolise good luck, the visitor carries a piece of coal and a glass of water.

New Year's Day

On New Year's Day (1 January) people make New Year's resolutions. They decide to do something to improve their lives. For example, people decide to give up smoking or go to the gym once a week.


Crufts Dog Show

Dog breeders from all over the world bring their valuable dogs to take part in Crufts Dog Show in Birmingham. There are prizes for most breeds and one for the best dog, who is given the title Crufts Supreme Champion.

Saint Valentine's Day

Saint Valentine's Day is 14 February. People send a Valentine's card to someone they love, fancy, admire or secretly like. Usually, you don't sign your name. The person who receives the card has to guess who sent it.


The Boat Race

This rowing race between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge has been held on the River Thames in London almost every year since 1836. The length of the course is 4 miles (7.2 kilometres).

Pancake Day

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is the day before Lent starts. Lent is a Christian fast which lasts for 40 days before Easter. Pancake Day is traditionally a day of celebration, the last day that you can eat what you want until Easter. Pancakes are made of flour, eggs and milk: all things which should not be eaten during Lent. Nowadays people don't fast, but some people give up sweets or smoking. There are also pancake races. Each competitor carries a pancake in a frying pan. While running, they have to throw the pancake in the air and catch it again in the pan. The competitors are usually women.


April Fool's Day

April Fool's Day is 1 April. You can play jokes on people, even on teachers. When they discover the joke, you say "April Fool!". You have to play the joke before 12 o'clock midday, otherwise the joke's on you.


Schools close for two weeks at Easter. On Good Friday, people eat hot cross buns, which are small sweet rolls. They eat them toasted with butter. People give each other chocolate Easter eggs on Easter Sunday. The eggs are usually hollow and contain sweets. They are wrapped in silver paper and bows.

The London Marathon

This is one of the biggest marathons in the world. Each year about 30,000 people start the race and about 25,000 finish. Some people take part to raise money for charity, often wearing costumes. There is also a race for people in wheelchairs.


May Day

In villages throughout Britain on 1 May you can see children dancing round the maypole and singing songs. It is a pagan festival to celebrate the end of winter and welcome summer. The maypole is a symbol of fertility.

FA (Football Association) Cup Final

This is the biggest day in the football calendar. Two English football clubs play to win the FA Cup. The match takes place at Wembley Stadium in London. Scotland has its own FA Cup Final, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

Chelsea Flower Show

This is Britain's most important flower and garden show. Thousands of people come to see the prize flowers and specially built gardens.


Royal Ascot

This is one of the biggest horse-race meetings in Britain. It is held at Ascot, in the south of England. The Queen drives there from Windsor Castle. Ascot lasts for four days. It is traditional for men and women to go to the horse-racing at Ascot wearing their best hats.

Trooping the Colour

This is the second Saturday in June and celebrates the Queen's official birthday (her real birthday is 21 April). She watches a parade of hundreds of soldiers. There is lots of marching, military music and the soldiers are dressed in colourful uniforms.



This is one of the four great world tennis championships and the only one which is played on grass. It is held in the last week of June and the first week of July at Wimbledon in south-west London. Tickets for Wimbledon are sold on the day. Lots of people queue overnight to get tickets for the Centre Court, the best tennis court. The queue often turns into a party.

Henley Regatta

This is the largest rowing competition in Britain. It is held at Henley-on-Thames, where the Thames runs in a straight line for over two kilometres and makes it an ideal place for rowing. The regatta, or boat racing competition, has been held there almost every year since 1839.

Saint Swithin's Day

It is said that if it rains on Saint Swithin's Day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days afterwards.


Notting Hill Carnival

The last weekend in August there is a big carnival at Notting Hill in west London. People who take part dress up in fabulous costumes. Steel bands play African and Caribbean dance music and people dance and blow whistles. It's the biggest carnival outside Brazil and thousands of people go to the Notting Hill Carnival for the party atmosphere!

The Proms

This is a popular series of classical music concerts. The season lasts seven weeks and there are concerts every night. Most of the concerts are performed at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. A lot of people like to go to the Last Night of the Proms. The orchestra plays popular tunes. People sing along and wave flags.


Blackpool Illuminations

Every year 16 million visitors go to the holiday resort of Blackpool. When summer ends there are still things to see. From 1 September to 1 November, the promenade has a special illuminated display at night. The theme of the display changes every year. Blackpool Illuminations along seven miles of promenades is the most visited attraction in Britain.

Harvest Festivals

In the autumn, harvest festivals are held. This is a Christian festival and churches are decorated with fruit, vegetables and flowers that people bring. Traditionally, the festival was held to say thank you to God for a good harvest.


International Motor Show

Every second year, car manufacturers from all over the world display their latest models at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham.


31 October is Hallowe'en. This pagan festival celebrates the return of the souls of the dead who come back to visit places where they used to live. In the evening there are lots of Hallowe'en parties, or fancy dress parties. People dress up as witches, ghosts, devils, cats, bats or anything scary. Houses are decorated with pumpkins with candles put inside. Some children follow the American custom called Trick or Treat. They knock at your house and ask, "Trick or treat?". If you give them some money or some sweets (a treat), they go away. Otherwise, they play a trick on you, like squirting water in your face.


London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally

This is usually the first Sunday in November. Hundreds of veteran cars are driven from London to Brighton, on the south coast of England. The cars were all built before 1905.

Guy Fawkes' Night (Bonfire Night)

Guy Fawkes is Britain's most famous terrorist. On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the King of England, James I. The plot was discovered and Guy Fawkes was hanged. Every year on 5 November, people celebrate by setting off fireworks. They also make models of Guy Fawkes and burn them on big bonfires.



These are plays put on before Christmas, usually for children. They are based on fairy tales, such as Cinderella or Aladdin, and mix comedy, song and dance.

Christmas cards

Most people send Christmas cards to their friends and relations. Some shops sell charity cards and the profits made from selling these cards go to good causes.

Christmas Day

The most important day of the holidays is 25 December, or Christmas Day. Children wake up early to find a stocking full of small presents on their bed. Other presents, opened when everybody is together, are arranged around the Christmas tree, which is usually decorated with multicoloured lights. A traditional Christmas dinner includes roast turkey, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, followed by Christmas pudding.

Boxing Day

This is 26 December. It is usually spent in front of the TV recovering from Christmas Day.



Michael Vaughan-Rees, Geraldine Sweeney, Picot Cassidy: In Britain. 21st Century Edition, Cornelsen Verlag, 2000, page 22 - 27