Public Holidays.....Want to find an excuse to have a party? Take a look at some of the major holidays and other significant days and learn about their history and significance.
Not all the days listed are a national holiday but at the same time I think it is interesting to know a bit about their history and maybe find an excuse for a party!
April Fool's Day
Date : 1st April
In 16th century France, the start of the New Year was observed on the 1st April. The French translation is "Poisson d'Avril". It was celebrated in much the same way as today with parties and dancing into the late hours of the night.
However in 1562, Pope Gregory XIII decided to introduce a new calendar with New Year's Day falling on the 1st of January. Naturally as news traveled slower in those days, many people had not heard of this change and so they continued to celebrate New year's Day on the April the first. People who knew about the change, ridiculed the uninformed and pointed and laughed at them and called them fools. Others played tricks on them and called them "April fools".
Date : 14th July
Bastille Day is a National public holiday in France and is the French symbol of the end of the Monarchy and the beginning of the First Republic.
The 14th July 1789 was the day that the people of Paris rose up against the monarchy and its undemocratic decisions and decided to storm the Bastille, a state prison that stood for the absolute despotism of the Ancient Regime.
The storming of the Bastille was an indication that the power no longer resided in the King as God's representative but in the people and it has come to symbolize liberty and democracy in the struggle against oppression.
Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid is extremely popular in Western-American history and there have been numerous films made about him and his 'unfair' treatment and many think of him as an historical hero who took the blame for crimes that he didn't commit.
Born in 1859, New York City, Billy the Kid used many names throughout his life, including William H. Bonney, Henry McCarty and Kid Antrim. In 1873, after his father's death, his mother remarried and the family moved to Silver City, New Mexico where Billy spent most of his days in the rough saloons of the frontier. He allegedly committed his first murder at the age of 12 and then claimed to have gone on and killed 21 more men. He became notorious for crimes of robbery, murder and cattle stealing.
He was eventually imprisoned in 1880 and sentenced to hang but Billy escaped form jail on April 28th 1881, killing 2 deputies in the process. He was caught shortly after and shot by Sheriff Garrett in Fort Summer, New Mexico. He was 21 years old.
Date : 25th January
Robert Burns is Scotland's most well known and best-loved poet. Born in Alloway, Ayrshire in southwest Scotland, on January 25th 1759 to a poor tenant farmer and his wife. As the eldest of seven children, he was expected to work the farm but he was always more interested in poetry. His father wanting to better his children, employed a personal tutor and at the age of 15 Robert penned his first verse My Handsome Nell. He spent most of his adult life in Edinburgh and soon acquired national celebrity status for his literary works. He died aged 37 of heart disease, the same day as his wife gave birth to his last son, Maxwell. On the day of his burial, more than 10,000 people cam to watch and pay their respects.
On the anniversary of his death, Scots from around the world celebrate Robert Burns with a supper, whereby they address the haggis, the ladies and the whisky and party till late. Burns night is not a public holiday.
A Burns' Night supper must always begin with Burns' own:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
Day : 1st July
Canada Day is a national holiday in celebration of the anniversary of the formation of the union of the British North America provinces under the name of Canada. Canada was at one time under British rule but on July 1, 1867, the British government approved a plan which allowed Canada to become an independent country and to have its own government. At first this new country was called the Dominion of Canada but now we know it as Canada. Although the treaty was signed on June 20th, 1868, Canada Day is celebrated on the 1st July.
Chinese New Year
data-custom-mark="true"Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar and takes place the second New Moon after the solstice, thus this major public holiday falls on a different day each year. The Chinese Lunar calendar is made up of 12-year cycles and each year is named after an animal. Legend has it that Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only 12 animals came to bid him farewell and so as a reward to them, he named a year after each animal in the order that they arrived. The Chinese believe that the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on their personality.
Date : 25th December
Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Born nearly two thousand years ago, Christians believe him to be the Son of God. It is not sure that Jesus was really born on December 25th but the Roman Church is said to have fixed that date by tying it to the Roman festival of the Nativity.
Christmas Eve is as much a holiday celebration as Christmas Day although not officially a public holiday. In our modern world of consumerism, Christmas Eve tends to have the more religious significance which includes midnight mass and carol singing, whilst Christmas day is for being with family, present giving and of course much eating and drinking. Christmas day is a public holiday.
Cinco De Mayo
Date : 5th May
The national public holiday of Cinco De Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexicans over the French army at The Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the Mexican state capital city of Puebla and throughout the state of Puebla, but is also celebrated in other parts of the country and in US cities where there is a significant Mexican population. The holiday is a celebration of Mexican culture, food, music, beverages and customs unique to Mexico.
Diwali Hindu Festival
Diwali is also known as Deepavali and Divalie, and is the Hindu festival of lights. The date of thisnational public holiday varies each year according to the Hindu calendar. It is held on the 14th day of the dark half of Aashwayuja to the 2nd day of the bright half of Kaartik.
The legends that surround this holiday are numerous. In the North the folklore tells of the homecoming of Lord Sri Rama to Ayudhya and the defeat of Rawana by Rama. In the South, they speak of the victory of Lord Krishna over the evil demon Naraksura. All the stories share the same belief that there was no moon on the night of the homecoming so dipas were placed in every window and fireworks illuminated the sky.
This tradition still exists. Today this public holiday celebration lasts for 5 days and include the cleaning of the house, wearing of new clothes, flower garlands and bell anklets for the girls, a great feast and a magnificent fireworks display.
In Christian countries, Easter is celebrated in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Easter heralds the end of the forty-six day lent period, which starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. However the celebrations of Easter have many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and have nothing to do with Christianity.
The Easter Bunny symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre (later to become Easter). The Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess Eastre through her earthy symbol, the rabbit. From the earliest times, the egg has been a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. Easter eggs were painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight and rebirth and they were exchanged and covered with gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with leaves of petals from certain flowers.
The Easter public holiday stretches from Good Friday through to Easter Monday and on Easter day itself, children hunt colored eggs or delight in eating chocolate eggs on Easter morning.
Date : 5th November
November 5th is known as Guy Fawkes Night and all over Britain, people let off fireworks, light bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes.
The story behind it is of a man called Guy Fawkes who in 1605 along with a bunch of conspirators, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London by smuggling in barrels of gunpowder into the basement. The plot was foiled and Guy Fawkes was charged with treason by King James I and imprisoned in the Tower of London before being beheaded. Even today, one of the ceremonies that accompanies the opening of a new session of parliament, is the searching of the basement by a group of men in 'funny hats'! Guy Fawkes night is not a public holiday.
Date : 31st October
The word Halloween actually has Catholic origins and is a corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1st is considered as "All Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day") and is a Catholic day which honors the saints.
It is believed that on that day, the spirits of all those who had died in the previous year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. In order to be protected from this, on the night of October 31st, the people would extinguish the fires in their homes to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in hideous costumes and parade around the towns and villages in order to frighten the spirits away.
Today, Halloween doesn't represent the ridding of spirits but is an opportunity to party and to use ones imagination to be as spooky as possible – a friendly spook! Halloween is not a public holiday.
Hanukkah (Chanukah) is the Jewish public holiday of Lights and takes place in mid to late December. It is one of the most important of the Jewish public holidays and its history goes back almost 2,400 years.
The history behind Hanukkah started almost two and a half millennia ago when Judea was ruled by Antiochus, a Syrian King. He attempted to assimilate the Jews into Greek culture, ordering them to worship Greek gods. Many Jews refused and thus followed a three-year struggle by the Jewish people who eventually succeeded in overthrowing their Syrian oppressors.
When Jerusalem's temple was finally reclaimed, the Hebrews found that all their statues had been destroyed and all Jewish items removed. When the time came to light the Eternal Light of the Temple, the Jews could only find one sanctified jar of oil – marked with the seal of the High Priest. The lamp could thus be lit. But although the oil was minimal, miraculously the light burned bright for eight consecutive days.
Jamaican Independence Day
Date : 6th August
Jamaica's history indicates that it was first inhabited by Arawak Indians prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1494 under Christopher Columbus. It was under Spanish rule until 1655 whereby the English arrived in force and Jamaica quickly became a British Colony. Jamaica remained a British colony for 300 years plagued by a stormy political history until it finally obtained full independence in 1962.
Jamaican Independence Day is a public holiday celebrated as a great big party with festival, carnivals, parades and dancing. A great way to party!
Lord Mayor's Show
Date : Second Saturday in November
There has been a Lord Mayor of London ever since 1189, however the first Lord Mayor's show wasn't staged until 1215.
At that time King John granted a Charter allowing the City's citizens to elect their own Mayor and the charter stipulated that the new mayor must be presented to the sovereign for approval. Thus each year, the newly elected Mayor had to travel from the City to Westminster to pledge allegiance to the sovereign. Gradually this walk or procession became more and splendid and more and more people came to observe it thus giving it the name of the Lord Mayor's Show.
Today the shows are a wonderful mixture of the past and present with Londoner's and people from all walks of life partying together in celebration of London's traditions and its future. The Lord Mayor's show is not a public holiday.
Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" and has French origins. It is also known as "Shrove Tuesday" or "Carnival" and marks the final day before the Christian fast of lent, a 40-day period of self-denial and abstinence from merrymaking.
Early explorers from the 17th century celebrated this French holiday on the banks of the Mississippi River but throughout the years, Orleanians have adapted the celebrations by establishing krewes (organizations) which host parades and balls. Thus today we see Mardi Gras as Carnival Time.
Mardi Gras Day, a legal holiday in New Orleans, is set to occur 46 days (the 40 days of Lent plus six Sundays) before Easter. The official colors for Mardi Gras are Purple (justice) , Green (faith) and Gold (power). Mardi Gras is a public holiday in some countries.
Mexican Independence day
Date : 16th September
Every 16th September is a national public holiday and the Mexicans have one great big party El Grito to celebrate Mexico's Independence from Spanish rule.
After Christopher Columbus discovered America, the Spaniards quickly followed in search of gold and riches. In 1521 about 500 Spanish soldiers arrived in Mexico and defeated the ruling Aztecs and so three centuries of Spanish rule began. The new rulers brought not only wealth but also diseases and class oppression. It wasn't until 1808 when Napoleon invaded Spain that the Mexicans decided to take up the struggle for Mexican Independence. So in the early hours of September 16th, 1810, father Hidalgo rang the bell of his little church calling everyone to fight for liberty.
Today on this momentous public holiday, everyone takes to the streets for a wild party of dancing, singing, flag waving and Mexican cuisine.
Date : 24th June
Midsummer's Day also know as the Summer Solstice marks the day when the sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky before beginning its journey back to the south of the equator. Midsummer's Day is thus the longest day of the year.
Midsummer has been an important event and a reason for celebration for thousands of years as ancient man dreaded the long, dark days of winter and looked forward to the warm, fertile days of the summer months. Midsummer is said to be a magical time and there are many superstitions associated with it including the healing powers of Midsummer dew and the mystical powers of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Midsummer's day is not a public holiday.
The earliest Mother's Day celebrations date back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. During the 17th century, England celebrated a day called "Mothering Sunday" on the 4th Sunday of Lent in honor of the mothers of England.
During this time, many of England's poor worked away from home as servants for the wealthy and they were thus given this day off and encouraged to return home to spend time with their mothers. As Christianity spread through Europe, the celebrations changed to honor the "Mother Church"and over time the church festival blended with the Mothering Sunday celebration.
The first Mother's Day celebrations took place in the USA in West Virginia in 1908 due to the efforts of Ana Jarvis. Her own mother had passed away several years earlier and it was her dream to reunited families divided by the Civil War with a day dedicated to Mothers. The idea quickly caught on and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially declared Mother's Day as a national holiday that was to be held on the 2nd Sunday of May. Many countries of the world now celebrate Mother's Day at different times throughout the year. Mother's Day is not a public holiday.
Notting Hill Carnival
Date: UK August Bank Holiday weekend
The Notting Hill Carnival is a yearly event that takes place in the streets of the Notting Hill area of London. It started in the mid 1950s when the growing Caribbean community was subject to a series of racial attacks. In response to this, they organized a street party based on Caribbean tradition and it has now become the second largest street party in the world - the largest being the Rio carnival.
More than a million people will jam the streets for a holiday of dancing, singing, street bands, Caribbean cuisine and of course to watch the famous carnival procession. Some of the floats and costumes take a year to make and there is fierce competition for the best floats. The Notting Hill carnival is not a public holiday but it usually takes place at the weekend.
St Andrew's Day
Date : 30th November
St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and St Andrew's day is celebrated by Scots around the world on November 8th.
Andrew was a fisherman and disciple of Jesus. Due to his spiritual presence and his wide spreading of the gospel, he was feared by the Roman Governor who had him crucified on an X-shaped cross known as a Saltire Cross. This was later to become the symbol on the Flag of Scotland.
St Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland after a Greek monk was told by an angel to take the relics of St Andrew to Scotland. St Andrew's Day is not a public holiday.
St David's Day
Date : 1st March
St David is the patron saint of Wales and lived in the 6th century AD. He was a Celtic monk and then abbot and later went on to become the bishop of Wales.
He was one of the early saints instrumental in spreading the Christian faith through the pagan tribes of western Britain. A typical St David's Day holiday involves a service at a local church followed by a lunch of Cawl (leek broth) and then it is party time – dancing, singing, poetry and the "longest leek" competition. St David's Day is not a public holiday.
St George's Day
Date : 23rd April
St George is the patron saint of England and he is most often portrayed killing a dragon.
According to a legend from the 14th century, a menacing dragon was plaguing a pagan town in Libya. The offering of sheep to the dragon did not satisfy him so it was decided to start offering the citizens of the town to the dragon. When it was the local princess' turn to be sacrificed, St George came to the rescue and slaughtered the dragon thus saving the life of the princess. As a result the entire town converted to Christianity.
The story goes, that when St George had killed the dragon, he then offered the princess a red rose and thus it is often the tradition for men to give their wife or girlfriend a red rose on St George's Day.
The real St George was born in Cappadocia and was a soldier in the Roman army during the treacherous reign of Emperor Diocletian (245–313). Because of St George's outspoken support against the violence towards Christians, he was thrown in prison, tortured and then beheaded. Hence he was one of the early Christian martyrs.
He is patron saint of England, mainly as he is said to have appeared in the spirit to the Christian army before the Battle of Antioch and to the English King Richard the Lionheart during his crusade against the Saracens. St George's Day is not a public holiday.
St Patrick's Day
Date : 17th March
St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and St Patrick's Day is always celebrated on March 17, his religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the 5th Century.
He was born in England and came to Ireland at around the age of 16. He was then captured by Irish marauders and sold into servitude. During this time he discovered God and went on to found the church and monastery of Armagh.
The first St Patrick's day parade took place not in Ireland but in the United States on March 17 1762 in New York City. Irish soldiers serving in the English military, marched through the streets, singing and dancing, as a way of helping them reconnect with their Irish roots.
Today, St Patrick's Day is a public holiday in Ireland but is also celebrated by people of all backgrounds in the United States, Canada and Australia. A typical St Patrick's Day celebration involves attending church in the morning followed by a party in the afternoon whereby the Lenten prohibitions of eating meat are waived and people eat, drink, feast and dance.
Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or fetter Dienstang) is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian fast of Lent.
But where did the history of pancakes come from? As Lent is a time for abstinence, traditionally of meat, eggs, fat and dairy products, Shrove Tuesday became an opportunity to use up all those products from the store cupboard in preparation for the Lent fast – hence the birth of Pancake Day.
In many traditions, Lent is a time for cleaning in preparation for Easter and spring. First you cleanse your soul, then your kitchen and then the rest of the house. Shrove Tuesday is not a public holiday.
Fourth Thursday of November
Thanksgiving stems from 1621 when after a devastating and hard year in the New World, the Pilgrims fall harvest was successful and bountiful and they had enough food and shelter to protect them from the harsh winter months. Their Governor, William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving that was to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring native Indians.
This annual public holiday celebration of thanksgiving after the harvest, continued throughout the years and the idea began to spread to other states. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving and since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving day proclamation usually designating the holiday on the fourth Thursday of November.
Today the Thanksgiving public holiday is celebrated with a huge meal at home followed by parades, partying, football and general celebrating.
US Independence Day
Independence Day is the national public holiday of the United States of America commemorating the signing of the deceleration of Independence on July 4th 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At the time of signing, the US consisted of 13 colonies under the rule of England's King George III. Prior to the signing there had been growing unrest due to the taxes that had to be paid to England. As the unrest grew in the colonies, King George sent extra troops to help control any rebellion. Despite attempts at dialogue, the British continued to send troops and the battle of Concord in Massachusetts in April 1775 heralded the start of the colonies war for independence.
By June 1776, attempts at dialogue were still being made but with little effect so a committee was formed to compose a formal declaration of independence. Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the first draft, which was presented to the congress on June 28th 1776.
After various changes a vote was taken late in the afternoon of July 4th 1776 and of the 13 colonies, 9 voted in favor of the declaration. The first Independence Day celebrations took place the following year – July 4th 1777.
By the early 1800's the traditions of parades, picnics and fireworks were established as the way to celebrate America's birthday and these continue today.
Legend has it that Valentine's Day is named after a Roman priest called Valentine in the era of the birth of Christianity in Rome during the third century.
The Emperor at that time, Claudius II, ordered the Roman soldiers not to marry or become engaged as he believed that an unmarried or betrothed man would be more loyal to the army. Valentine however, did not believe in this new rule and thus he secretly married many of the young couples. He was eventually caught, arrested and beheaded by the emperor's followers. Valentine was beheaded on the 14th February. He was eventually made a saint and Valentine's Day is in memory of him. Valentine's Day is not a public holiday.
Whit weekend is usually the first UK public holiday of the year. Pentecost or Whitsun is observed on the seventh Sunday after Easter and Whit Sunday commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of flames to the Apostles.
The idea behind Whit-Monday was to offer a Late Spring Bank holiday on the last Monday in May and thus attach it to Whitsun. Thus the general public refer to this public holiday as Whit-Monday i.e. the Monday after Whitsun.
Two main traditions exist, mainly in the North of England. There are Whit Walks which involve the towns community parading round the streets accompanied by bands, singing and dancing and then there is Whitsun Ale (not the beer type!) which are country fairs with sports, competitions, Morris dancing displays and of course much eating and drinking.
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