Heading into a UK bank holiday–holla’!!! Quite recently, I was asked by friends from home what a “bank holiday” is exactly, so allow me to clarify here.
UK bank holidays are mandated days off for the nation, just like holidays that are observed in any other country. Started in 1871, the bank holiday was established as a day during which banks would be closed and, thus, no trading taking place. Today, banks continue to be closed and everyone gets off of work nationwide, though the random shop or so may remain open (recall the ghost town of Easter’s bank holiday weekend). England, Wales, and Scotland each enjoy 8 of such permanent days off (we get an extra in 2010 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee—woohoo!!), while Northern Ireland gets 10.
Thus, London observes Christmas, Boxing Day, New Years, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and, coming up this Monday, May Day. Filling out the balance are the creatively dubbed Spring Bank Holiday and Summer Bank Holiday, which essentially equate to the timing of America’s Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, respectively. What differs with these days in England, though, with the exception of Christmas, is that they don’t really coincide with any particular mode of celebration. Example: in the States, Thanksgiving serves the purpose of giving thanks for our blessings, and we celebrate with turkey and the works. The 4th of July is a day of barbeques and fireworks to celebrate the U.S.’s independence (true that England celebrates Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks, though it’s not an official bank holiday). And days like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. serve to commemorate specific turning points in our history and the people that contributed substantially. The bank holiday, though? It’s a play day off work. It’s an excuse for the Brits to use vacation days on the prior Thursday/Friday and/or subsequent Monday/Tuesday to flee the country for a long holiday weekend.
Perhaps I’ve mispoken. I do believe there is, in fact, one tradition that coincides with a UK bank holiday weekend: crap weather. That’s right, after enjoying (through our office windows and on pictures/forecasts on our computer monitors) the exhilerating warmth of actual sunshine for the last week or so, the clouds have rolled in and cool breezes are kicking up just in time for us to have some time off to enjoy the outdoors: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/apr/28/weather-bank-holiday-rain-forecast
But, as is also British tradition, we will “keep calm and carry on” with our days of freedom. For the schedule of 2010 bank holidays, consult this link: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/governmentcitizensandrights/livingintheuk/dg_073741. And for a schedule of 18-25 fabulous London flats to view within a single day if you’re relocating to London, consult this one 😉