Customs and Traditions (26185-1)

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Customs and Traditions

So many countries so many customs, an English proverb says. The combination of the words tradition & custom means a usual manner of doing smth, a believe of principal, of conduct passed on from generation to generation. English traditions can be subdivided into the traditions dealing with private life of the English national & religious holidays, public celebrations, traditional ceremonies & traditional sporting events. A great number of customs & traditions date back to the early days of GB & we can justly say that they are the reflection of the country"s history & the peoples phyhology. To know the customs & traditions means to understand the people, their art & culture better. In the matter of holidays the British are less well off than other Europeans. They have such holidays celebrated: New Years Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day, Spring Bank Holiday, Summer Bank Holiday, Christmas Day & Boxing Day.

The British have many traditions, manners & customs of which they can be proud. England has preserved it's old ceremonies & traditions to a greater extend than any other country in the world. Most of this traditions have been kept up without interruption since the thirteenth century. Foreigners coming to England are impressed by a great number of ceremonies which seem to be incompatible with the modern traffic & technical conditions of a highly developed country.

Some British customs and traditions are famous all over the world. Bowler hats, tea and talking about the weather, for example. But what about the others? Who was Guy Fawkes? Why does the Queen have two birthdays? And what is the word "pub" short for?

From Scotland to Cornwall, Britain is full of customs and traditions. A lot of them have very long histories. Some are funny and some are strange. But they're all interesting. There are all the traditions of British sport and music. There's the long menu of traditional British food. There are many royal occasions. There are songs, sayings and superstitions. They are all part of the British way of life.

A year in Britain



The Shetlands are islands near Scotland. In the ninth centurv, men from Norway came to the Shetlands. These were the Vikings. They came to Britain in ships and carried away animals, gold, and sometimes women and children, too.

Now, 1 ,OOO years later, people in the Shetlands remember the Vikings with a festival. Fhey call the festival "Up-Helly-Aa".

Every winter the people of Lerwick, a town in the Shetlands, make a model of a ship. It's a Viking "long-ship", with the head of a dragon at the front. Then, on Up-Helly-Aa night in January, the Shetlanders dress in Viking clothes. They carry the ship through the town to the sea. There they burn it. They do this because the Vikings put their dead men in ships and burned them. But there aren't any men in the modern ships. Now the festival is a party for the people of the Shetland Islands.


St Valentine's Day

St Valentine is the saint of people in love, and St Valentine's Day is February 14th. On that day, people send Valentine cards and presents to their husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. You can also send a card to a person you don't know. But traditionally you must never write your name on it. Some British newspapers have a page for Valentine's Day messages on Februarv 14th.


St David's Day

March 1st is a very important day for Welsh people. It's St David's Day. He's the "patron" or national saint of Wales.

On March 1st, the Welsh celebrate St David's Day and wear daffodils in the buttonholes of their coats or jackets.


April Fool's Day

April 1st is April Fool's Day in Britain. This is a very old tr~dition from the Middle Ages (between the fifth and fifteenth centuries). At that time the servants were masters for one day of the year. They gave orders to their masters, and their masters had to obey.

Now April Fool's Day is different. It's a day for jokes and tricks.


May Day

May 1st was an important day in the Middle Ages. In the very early morning, young girls went to the fields and washed their faces with dew. They believed this made them very beautiful for a year affer that. Also on May Day the young men of each village tried to win prizes with their bows and arrows, and people danced round the maypole.

Many English-villages still have a maypole, and on May 1st, the villagers dance round it. You can see one in the picture below.


Midsummer's Day

Midsummer's Day, June 24th, is the longest day of the year. On that day you can see a very old custom at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge is one of Europe's biggest stone circles. A lot of the stones are ten or twelve metres high. It's also very old. The earliest part of Stonehenge is nearly 5,000 years old.

But what was Stonehenge? A holy place? A market? Or was it a kind of calendar? We think the Druids used it for a calendar. The Druids were the priests in Britain 2,000 years ago. They used the sun and the stones at Stonehenge to know the start of months and seasons. There are Druids in Britain today, too. And every June 24th a lot of them go to Stonehenge. On that morning the sun shines on one famous stone - the Heel stone. For the Druids this is a very important moment in the year. But for a lot of British people it's just a strange old custom.



October 31st is Hallowe'en, and you can expect to meet witches and ghosts that night. Hallowe'en is an old word for "Hallows Evening", the night before "All Hallows" or "All Saints' Day"

On thai one night of the year, ghosts and witches are free. Well, that's the traditional story. A long time ago people were afraid and stayed at home on Hallowe'en. But now in Britain its a time for fun. There are always a lot of parties on October 31st. At these parties people wear masks and they dress as ghosts and witches, or as Dracula or Frankenstein's monster. And some people make special Hallowe'en lamps Irom a large fruit the pumpkin.

First they take out the middle of the pumpkin. Ihen they cut holes for the eyes, nose and mouth. Finally they put a candle inside the pumpkin.


Guy Fawkes' Day

November 5th is Guy Faw kes Day in Britain. All over the country people build wood fires or bonfires, in their gardens. On top of each bonfire is a guy. That's a figure of Guy Fawkes. People make guys with straw, old clothes and newspapers. But before November 5th, children use their guys to make money They stand in the street and shout "Penny for the guy". Then they spend the money on fireworks. But how did this tradition start? Who was Guy Fawkes and why do the British remember him on November 5th?

On November 5th 1605, Guy Fawkes tried to kill King James I. He and a group of friends put a bomb under the Houses of Parliament in London. But the King's men found the bomb and they found Guy Fawkes, too. They took him to the Tower of London and there the King's men cut off his head.


Christmas and the New Year

There are lots of Christmas and New Year traditions in Britain.

For example...

London's Ghristmas decorations Every year the people 9f Norway give the city of London a present.. It's a big Christmas tree and it stands in Trafalgar Square. Also in central London, Oxford Street and Regent Street always have beautiful decorations at Christmas. Thousands of people come to look at them.

Cards, trees and mistletoe In 1846 the first Christmas cards began in Britain. That was five years after the first Christmas tree. Queen

Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, brought this German tradition (he was German) to Britain. He and the Queen had a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1841. A few years after, nearly every house in Britain had one.

Traditionally people decorate their trees on Christmas Eve - that's December 24th. They take down the decorations twelve days later, on Twelfth Night (January 5th).

An older tradition is Christmas mistletoe. People put a piece of this green plant with its white berries over a door. Mistletoe brings good luck, people say. Also, at Christmas British people kiss their friends and family under the mistletoe.


Before Christmas, groups of singers go from house to house. They collect money and sing traditional Christmas songs or carols. There are a lot of very popular British Christmas carols. Three fanous ones are:

"Good King Wenceslas", "The Holly and The Ivy" and "We Three Kings".

Christmas Eve

British children don't open their presents on December 24th. Father Christmas brings their presents in the night. Then they open them on the morning of the 25th.

There's another name for Father Christmas in Britain - Santa Claus. That comes from the European name for him - Saint Nicholas. In the traditional story he lives at the North Pole. But now he lives in big shops in towns and cities all over Britain. Well, that's where children see him in November and

December. Then on Christmas Eve he visits every house. He climbs down the chimney and leaves lots of presents. Some people leave something for him, too. A glass of wine and some biscuits, for example.

Christmas Day

In Britain the most important meal on December 25th is

Christmas dinner. Nearly all Christmas food is traditional, but a lot of the traditions are not very old. For example, there were no turkeys in Britain before 1800. And even in the nineteenth century, goose was the traditional meat at Christmas. But not now.

A twentieth-century British Christmas dinner is roast turkey with carrots, potatoes, peas, Brussels sprouts and gravy. There are sausages and bacon too. Then, after the turkey, there's Christmas pudding. You can read about that in the chapter on food.

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