Holidays and festivals
In Great Britain and the USA people enjoy celebrating different festivals throughout the year. Family, food, flowers, sweets, parades, cards and parties are an important part of most celebrations.
People in Britain were pagans thousands years ago. They worshiped the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, animals and trees. When Christianity came to Britain, people wanted to keep their traditions, so many of old festivals became Christian ones such as St. Valentine´s day, Easter, Halloween, Christmas.
People of the United States are a mixture of many different nationalities. These different people brought to their new country their customs and traditions. The Germans brought a Christmas tree, the Irish brought St. Patrick´s Day, the Scots brought Halloween. There are new festivals which only Americans celebrate – Veterans ´Day, the Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
New Year´s Eve and New Year´s Day
New Year´s Eve is on 31December. People go parties. They want to spend the last day of the year and the first day of the New Year together. At midnight they sing an old song Auld Lang Syne and wish each other Happy New Year. They dance and cheer and there are fireworks. People usually make resolutions because they want to be better.
In Scotland, New Year´s Eve has a special name – Hogmanay. They make a national dish which is called haggis (minced heart, lungs and liver of a sheep, boiled in a sheep´s stomach with oatmeal. There is a tradition called “First foot”. If the first person coming into the house in the New Year is a tall, dark man, and somebody you don´t know, he will bring good luck. The first foot usually brings several gifts, including perhaps a coin, bread, salt, coal, or a drink, which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth and good cheer.
The 14th February is Valentine´s Day in Great Britain and the USA. On this day people exchange greeting cards, presents, sweets, chocolates and flowers. There is a story about a priest named Valentine who helped people and was put in prison. He fell in love with the jailor´s daughter Julia who was blind. He restored her sight. He wrote love letters to her just signed: Your Valentine. He was executed on 14th February 270.
St. Patrick´s Day
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. A lot of Americans came from Ireland. Every year on March l7th cities with a large population of Irish Americans have parades. You can see millions of shamrocks on St. Patrick´s Day and everything is green. Green is one of the national colours of Ireland. People wear something green on this day; shops prepare green food such as green bread, green pasta, green ice cream and green milkshakes. In many pubs they serve even green beer and most restaurants offer an Irish menu. People wish each other “A happy St. Patrick´s Day” and the Irish wear buttons with “Kiss me I´m Irish”. People have parties where they sing Irish songs and eat Irish food. In Britain St. David´s Day (the patron saint of Wales, 1st March), St. George´s Day (the patron saint of England, 23rd April) and St. Andrew´s Day (the patron Saint of Scotland, 30th November) are also celebrated.
April 1 – It is named after a custom of playing practical jokes or tricks on people. If you manage a good joke then you can call the person “April fool!”
Easter is a spring festival. It is connected with pre-Christian (Teutonic and Celtic) tradition; originally it was a festival celebrating the spring equinox. The Christians commemorate Jesus´ crucifixion (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter Sunday). The symbols of Easter are: eggs, rabbits (Easter Bunny), daffodils, baby animals – chicks, ducklings, and kids.
On Easter Sunday children hunt for eggs all around the house, garden or even in parks. There is a tradition of “egg roll” in Britain and the USA. You stand on the top of a hill and roll the eggs down. The winner is the person whose egg reaches the bottom of the hill first. There is a traditional Easter Egg Roll in front of the White House in Washington on Easter Monday.
The British eat Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday. They have young lamb, spring peas, new potatoes and eggs for Easter Sunday diner.
Political parties of the left hold processions and public meetings on 1st May.
It is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in America and in Britain. On this day all children, young and old, try to show how much they love their mothers. Some children give their mothers gifts which they have made themselves or bought in the shops. Adults give their mothers cards and flowers.
This holiday which honours all fathers is celebrated both in Britain and the USA on 3rd Sunday in June.
Independence Day is celebrated on 4th July because this is the day when Declaration of Independence was issued (1776). Every July 4th Americans have a holiday from work. People have barbecues with friends and family. They eat hamburgers, hot dogs and baked beans.
There are parades and afternoon fun activities. One of the most popular activities is the three-legged race. There are American flags everywhere and in the evening big fireworks displays in the cities.
Halloween is celebrated on October 31. Among the old Celts it was the last day of the year and the beginning of winter when witches and ghosts were supposed to celebrate their rites. When the pagans were Christianized, the holiday was converted to the Eve of All Saints ´Day when the Christian Church honours the memory of the dead. Halloween is celebrated in the north of England and in Scotland. It is generally celebrated in the USA and Canada. Children celebrate it by dressing up in Halloween costumes with masks over their faces. Carrying baskets or bags they go their friends’ and neighbours´ houses, they knock at the door or ring the bell. When people come to the door, the children say: “Trick or treat”, which means “Give us a treat or we will play a trick on you.” The people treat the children with sweets, fruit or money. The most common trick is soaping the windows of houses and cars (i.e. drawing pictures on the windows with soap). A favourite custom is to make a jack-o´- lantern from a pumpkin which is scraped out and in which eyes, a nose and a mouth are cut and then a candle is lit inside. People sometimes give parties on Halloween. The guests wear fancy costumes and masks and the rooms are decorated with paper moons, witches and ghosts.
Guy Fawkes Day
This festival is celebrated in Britain on November 5th and it is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot from 1605. Guy Fawkes was an English conspirator who, with other Catholics, attempted to blow up James I and the Parliament. The plot was discovered and the conspirator and his friends were executed. Some days before Bonfire Night, as the 5th November is called, many children make a guy (Guy Fawkes) from old clothes, stuffed with newspapers. The children carry the guy around the streets to show people and ask “A penny for a guy”. This is the way of collecting money for fireworks. At night there are bonfire parties, where the guy is burnt. People roast potatoes in the gardens. There is a rhyme about Guy Fawkes Day: Remember, remember, The fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot.
On 11th November people in Britain remember those killed in the two world wars. There is a ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, in which two minutes ´silence honours all men who fought in defence of their country. People wear paper poppies made by disabled veterans. The money raised by the sale of these poppies is given to charities involved with people who suffered in the wars. The bright red wild flower became a symbol of World War I after the bloody battle in a field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium.
The celebration is held on November 11 in the USA and honours the veterans of all wars.
Thanksgiving is celebrated on 4th Thursday in November. It is a national holiday in the USA and it was first celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth colony, Massachusetts, on their first harvest. They landed in the USA in their ship Mayflower in December 1620. Their first winter was hard and a lot of people died. Next year in spring they started to grow food with the help of Indians. They showed the pilgrims how to grow new kinds of plants and how to cook. In autumn 1621 they celebrated their first harvest together. They wanted to thank God and the Indians for many things – the good harvest, their new home, new life and new friends. Thanksgiving is a family holiday. People have their traditional dinner consisting of turkey, sweet potatoes, beans, corn with cranberry sauce, autumn vegetables, cider and pumpkin pie.
In Britain the preparations start a long time before Christmas, because at the end of November Christmas pudding must be made.
Christmas Eve – 24th December is not a special day in Britain, but on the other hand it is the only day of the year reserved for “office parties”. A lot of people spend the day shopping. Before the English children go to bed on Christmas Eve, they hang up stockings at the end of their beds and believe that Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) will come through the chimney and fill up the stockings with presents. Larger presents are found under the Christmas tree. Christmas trees are decorated with lights and bright coloured ornaments. In the room holly and ivy are hung as a decoration. It is supposed to date back to the Teutonic times when evergreens were hung to allow wood spirits to shelter from cold. A spring of mistletoe is hung in a central position or over the door. If you catch a girl under it, you are allowed to kiss her.
Christmas Day – 25th December is the most festive day of Christmas. In the morning children enjoy unwrapping presents and at midday Christmas dinner is a great occasion. It consists of roast turkey with chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables and Christmas pudding. Christmas pudding is made with a lot of dried fruit, eggs, suet and very little flour. It is made well ahead before Christmas, boiled for hours and then heated again on Christmas Day. Brandy is usually poured over it and it is set alight.
There are plenty of carols on the radio and TV and various professional choirs sing carols in old people´s homes, hospital or outside churches.
Mice-pies, special Christmas sweets, are served at teatime. These pies are small and round, containing a mixture of dried fruit soaked in lemon juice and brandy and covered with pastry and baked. On Christmas day the monarch addresses the nation and the Commonwealth on the radio and television.
December 26th is called Boxing Day from the custom in earlier times of giving postmen, milkmen, dustmen and newspaper boys small sums of money, which they collected in their Christmas boxes. A pantomime is a traditional Christmas time entertainment but it is not a play without words. It is a theatre show based on a fairy tale or traditional story with music, dancing, acrobatics and clowning. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Peter Pan are the most favourite fairy tales for dramatization.
Christmas is not a national holiday in the USA. Unlike Christmas in our country, Christmas in the USA is not a family holiday, families invite friends to join them at Christmas dinner and often give parties at Christmas time. On Boxing Day most shops are open although people have a day off. Besides the Christmas tree the Americans also decorate their houses with garlands and wreaths and electric coloured lights inside and outside the house or on the trees in their gardens.
Czech national holidays
New Year – 1st January
This festive day celebrates the start of the New Year. Some people still keep the tradition and prepare a big meal including pork for good luck and lentils for prosperity.
The date of celebration is different every year, as it falls on the first Sunday after the spring full moon – the first full moon after 21st March. The symbols of Easter are the same as symbols of spring: lambs and eggs, representing new life. There is a tradition of “whipping girls” in our country. Boys go around the village or town and they whip girls with young sprigs of a willow, which is supposed to bring the girls good health.
Labour Day – 1st May
This day commemorates the efforts of labour unions to improve working conditions for all people. On May 1, 1886, labour unions organized a strike in Chicago to protest against miserable working conditions. At that time most workers worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. The strikers wanted to work eight hours a day. The police attacked the strikers for no reason killing two and wounding several others. This led to protests in many other places.
Liberation Day – 8th May
Liberation Day celebrates the end of World War II on 8th May, 1945. It is the time when we remember the people who fought and died for our freedom.
Cyril and Methodius Day – 5th July
St. Cyril and St. Methodius brought Christianity to the Slavic people of central Europe in 863. They also wrote down the standard Slavic language, which was the forerunner of the Czech, Slovak, Polish and Russian languages.
Jan Hus Day – 6th July
July 6 commemorates Jan Hus, a Catholic priest and the rector of Charles University. He was burned at the stake as a heretic because of his efforts to stop corruption in the Catholic Church.
St. Wenceslas Day – 28th September
This day is celebrated as Czech Statehood Day. Prince Wenceslas, who was murdered by his brother, is the patron saint of the Czech nation.
Czechoslovak Independence Day – 28th October
On this day in l918 the independent Czechoslovak Republic was founded. This is connected with disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy after World War I.
Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day – 17th November
This day honours the students’ demonstrations against the Nazis in 1939, as well as the protests against the Communists in 1989.
Christmas – 24th – 26th December
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There are three days of Christmas celebrations – Christmas Eve, Christmas day and St. Stephen´s Day. Families spend this time together or with friends. Our typical Christmas Eve dinner is fish (carp) and potato salad.
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