Customs and traditions of Great Britain


Customs and traditions

      English customs and traditions, first of all, concerns United  Kingdom
political system. In Great Britain there is no  written  constitution,  only
customs, traditions and precedents. After the English  Revolution  of  Great
Britain is a constitutional monarchy headed by King  (now  Queen,  Elizabeth
the second). Traditionally  the  Queen  acts  only  on  the  advice  of  her
Ministers. She reigns but she does not rule.
Englishmen have traditions not only in political, but in  social  life.  For
example, London, the capital  of  England,  is  traditionally  divided  into
three parts: the West End, the East  end,  and  the  City.  The  City  is  a
historical, financial and business center of London. The  East  End  is  the
district inhabited by the  workers,  and  the  West  End  is  a  fashionable
shopping and entertaining center. English people like to  spend  their  free
time in numerous pubs where they can have a glass of  beer  and  talk  about
different things with their friends.
The English are traditional about their meals. They eat eggs and bacon  with
toasts for breakfast, pudding  or  apple  pie  for  dessert.  Every  English
family has five o'clock tea. A typical feature of  an  English  house  is  a
fireplace, even when there is central heating in the house.
English people like domestic animals. Every family has a pet: a dog,  a  cat
or a bird.
Politeness is a characteristic feature of Englishmen. They often say  "Thank
you", "Sorry", "Beg your pardon". Russian people, I  think,  have  to  learn
this good custom.
Englishmen   have   many   traditional   holidays,   such   as    Christmas,
St.Valentine's Day, Mother's day, Easter and others.

      Some English customs   and  traditions are famous all over the  world.
Bowler hats, tea and talking about the weather, for example.  From  Scotland
to Cornwall, the United Kingdom is full of customs   and   traditions.  Here
are some of them.

St. Valentines

       St. Valentine's Day roots in  several  different  legends  that  have
found their way to us through the ages. One of the earliest popular  symbols
of the day is Cupid, the Roman god of Love, Who is represented by the  image
of a young boy with bow and arrow. Three hundred years after  the  death  of
Jesus Christ, the Roman emperors still demanded  that  everyone  believe  in
the Roman gods. Valentine, a Christian priest, had  been  thrown  in  prison
for his teachings. On February 14, Valentine was beheaded, not only  because
he was a Christian,  but  also  because  he  had  performed  a  miracle.  He
supposedly cured the jailer's daughter of her blindness.  The  night  before
he was executed, he wrote the jailer's daughter a farewell  letter,  signing
it,  "from  Your  Valentine".  Another  legend  tells  us  that  this   same
Valentine, well-loved by all, wrote notes from his  jail  cell  to  children
and friends who missed  him.  Whatever  the  odd  mixture  of  origins,  St.
Valentine's Day is now a day for sweethearts. It is the day  that  you  show
your friend of loved one that you care. You can send candy  to  someone  you
think is special. Or you can send "valentines" a greeting card  named  after
the  notes  that  St.  Valentine  wrote  from  jail.   Valentines   can   be
sentimental, romantic, and heartfelt. They can be  funny  and  friendly.  If
the sender is shy, valentines can be anonymous. Americans  of  all  ages  as
other people in different countries love to  send  and  receive  valentines.
Handmade valentines, created by cutting hearts out of coloured  paper,  show
that a lot of thought was put into making them personal. Valentines  can  be
heart-shaped, or have hearts, the symbol of love,  on  them.  In  elementary
schools,  children  make  valentines,  they  have   a   small   party   with
refreshments. You can right a short rhyme inside the heart:

      There are gold ships

      And silver ships,

      But no ships

      Like friendship.

      Valentine cards  are  usually  decorated  with  symbols  of  love  and
friendship. These symbols were devised many centuries ago.  Lace  symbolises
a net for catching one's heart. If you get a Valentine with  a  piece  of  a
lace you may understand that the person who sent  it  must  be  crazy  about
you. A symbol should have several meanings, so some  experts  maintain  that
lace stands for a bridal veil. A ribbon means that the person is  tired  up,
while hearts, which are the most  common  romantic  symbol,  denote  eternal
love. Red roses are also often used as a love emblem. Valentine's Day  grows
more and more popular in many countries  of  the  world.  Some  people  have
already begun to celebrate it  in  Russia.  They  try  to  imitate  European
Valentine  customs  and  want  to  known  more  about  their   origin.   St.
Valentine's Day is the day when boys  and  girls.  friends  and  neighbours,
husbands and wives, sweethearts and lovers exchange  greeting  of  love  and
affection. It is the day to share one's loving  feelings  with  friends  and
family, but it is young men and girls who usually wait it  with  impatience.
This day has become traditional for many couples  to  become  engaged.  That
makes young people acknowledge St.  Valentine's  as  the  great  friend  and
patron of lovers.

November, 5 is Guy Fawkess Day.

      On the 5th of November in almost every town and village in England
one can see fire burning, fireworks, cracking and lighting up the sky,
small groups of children pulling round in a home made cart, a figure that
looks something like a man but consists of an old suit of clothes, stuffed
with straw. The children sing:" Remember, remember the 5th of November; Gun
powder, treason and plot". And they ask passers-by for "a penny for the
Guy" But the children with "the Guy" are not likely to know who or what day
they are celebrating. They have done this more or less every 5th of
November since 1605. At that time James the First was on the throne. He was
hated with many people especially the Roman Catholics against whom many
sever laws had been passed. A number of Catholics chief of whom was Robert
Catesby determined to kill the King and his ministers by blowing up the
house of Parliament with gunpowder. To help them in this they got Guy
Fawker, a soldier of fortune, who would do the actual work. The day fixed
for attempt was the 5th of November, the day on which the Parliament was to
open. But one of the conspirators had several friends in the parliament and
he didn't want them to die. So he wrote a letter to Lord Monteagle begging
him to make some excuse to be absent from parliament if he valued his life.
Lord Monteagle took the letter hurrily to the King. Guards were sent at
once to examine the cellars of the house of Parliament. And there they
found Guy Fawker about to fire a trail of gunpowder. He was tortured and
hanged, Catesby was killed, resisting arrest in his own house. In memory of
that day bonfires are still lighted, fireworks shoot across the November
sky and figures of Guy Fawker are burnt in the streets.


Christmas.

      It is certain  that  Christmas  is  celebrated  all  over  the  world.
Perhaps no other holiday has developed a set of customs  and  symbols.  This
is the day when many people are travelling home to be with  their  famillies
on Christmas Day, 25th December. The Christmas story comes  from  bible.  An
angel appeared to shepherds and told them that a Savior  had  been  born  to
Mary and Joseph in a stable in Bethlehem.  Three  Wise  Men  from  the  East
followed a wondrous star which led them to the  baby  Jesus  to  whome  they
paid homage and presented gifts of gold, frankicense and  myrrh.  To  people
all over the world, Christmas is a season of giving and receiving  presents.
In Scandinavian and other European countries,  Father  Christmas,  or  Saint
Nicholas, comes into house at night  and  leaves  gifts  for  the  children.
Saint Nicholas is represented as a fidly man  with  a  red  cloak  and  long
white beard. He visited house and left giftes, dringing people happiness  in
the coldest months of the year. Another character, the Norse God Odin,  rode
on a magical flying horse across the ages to  make  the  present  day  Santa
Claus.
      For most British families, this is the most important festival of  the
year, it combines the Christian celebration or the birth of Christ with  the
traditional festivities of winter.  On  the  Sunday  before  Christmas  many
churches hold a carol service where special hymns are sung.Sometimes  carol-
singers can be heard on the streets as they collect money for charity.  Most
families decorate their houses with brightly-coloured paper  or  holly,  and
they usually have a  Christmas  tree  in  the  corner  or  the  front  foom,
glittering with coloured lights and  decorations.  The  Christmas  tree  was
popularized by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who introduced  one
to the Royal Household in 1840.  Since  1947,  the  country  of  Norway  has
presented Britain annually with a  large  Christmas  tree  which  stands  in
Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during  the
Second World War.
      There are a lot of traditions connected  with  Christmas  but  perhaps
the most important one is the giving of present.  Familly  members  wrap  up
their gifts and leave them bottom of the  Christmas  tree  to  be  found  on
Christmas morning. Children leave sock or stocking at the end of their  beds
on Christmas Eve, 24th of December, hoping that Father Christmas  will  come
down the chimney during the night and bring them small presents,  fruit  and
nuts. They are usually not disappointe! At some time on  Christmas  Day  the
familly will sit down to a big turkey dinner followed by Christmas  pudding.
Christmas dinner consists traditionally of a roast turkey, goose or  chicken
with stuffing and roast potatoes. Mince pies and Christmas  pudding  flaming
with brandy, which might contain coins or lucky charms for children,  follow
this. (The pudding is usually prepared weeks beforehand and  is  customarily
stirred by each member of the family as a wish is made.) Later in  the  day,
a Christmas cake may be served -  a  rich  baked  fruitcake  with  marzipan,
icing and sugar frosting.
      The pulling of Christmas crackers often accompanies food on  Christmas
Day. Invented by a London baker in 1846, a cracker  is  a  brightly  colored
paper tube, twisted at both ends, which contains a  party  hat,  riddle  and
toy or other trinket. When it is pulled by two people it gives out  a  crack
as its contents are dispersed.
      26th December is also a public holiday, Boxing Day,  which  takes  its
name from a former custom of giving a Christmas Box - a  gift  of  money  or
food inside a box  -  to  the  deliverymen  and  trades  people  who  called
regularly during the year. This tradition survives in the custom of  tipping
the  milkman,  postman,  dustmen  and  other  callers  of  good  service  at
Christmas time. This is the time to visit friends  and  relatives  or  watch
football.
       At  midnight  on  31th  December  throughout  Great  Britain   people
celebrate the coming of the New Year, by holding hands  in  a  large  circle
and singing the song:

                  Should auld acquaintance be forget,

                  And never brought to mind?

                  Should auld acquaintance be forget?

                  And auld lang syne?
                  For auld lang syne, my dear,

                  For auld lang syne,

                  We'll take a cup of kindness yet,

                  For auld lang syne!..

New Year's Eve is a more important  festival  in  Scotland  than  it  is  in
England, and it even has a special name. It is  not  clear  where  the  word
'Hogmanay' comes from, but it is connected with the provision  of  food  and
drink for all visitors to your home on 31th December. It was  believed  that
the first person to visit one's house on New Year's Day could bring good  or
bad luck. Therefore, people tried to arrange for the  person  or  their  own
choice to be standing outside their houses ready to be  let  in  the  moment
midnight had come. Usually a dark-complexioned man was chosen, and  never  a
woman, for she would bring bad luck. The first footer was required to  carry
three articles: a piece of coal to wish warmth, a piece  of  bread  to  wish
food, and a silver coin to wish wealth.

Easter.

      Easter is a Christian spring festival that is  usually  celebrated  in
March  or  April.  The  name  for  Easter  comes  from  a  pagan   fertility
celebration. The word  "Easter"  is  named  after  Eastre,  the  Anglo-Saxon
goddess og spring. Spring is a natural time  for  new  life  and  hope  when
animals have their young and plants begin  to  grow.  Christian  Easter  may
have purposely been celebrated in the place  of  a  pagan  festival.  It  is
therefore not surprising that relics of doing and beliefs not  belonging  th
the Christian religious should cling  even  to  this  greatest  day  in  the
Church's year. An old-fashioned custom still alive is to get  up  early  and
climb a hill to see the sun rising.  There  are  numerous  accounts  of  the
wonderful spectacle of the sun whirling round  and  round  for  joy  at  our
Saviour's Resurrection. So many people go outdoors on Easter morning  hoping
to see the sun dance. There is also a custom of putting on something new  to
go to church on Easter morning.   People celebrate the holiday according  to
their beliefs and  their  religious  denominations.  Christians  commemorate
Good Friday as the day that Christ died and Easter Sunday as  the  day  that
He was resurrected. Protestant settlers brought  the  custom  of  a  sunrise
service, a religious gathering at dawn, to the United States.
      Today on Easter Sunday, children wake  up  to  find  that  the  Easter
Bunny has left them baskets of candy. He has also hidden the eggs that  they
decorated earlier that week. Children hunt  for  the  eggs  all  around  the
house. Neighborhoods and organizations hold Easter egg hunts, and the  child
who first the most eggs wins a prize.
      Americans celebrate the Easter  bunny  coming.  They  set  out  easter
baskets for their children to  anticipate  the  easter  bunnys  arrival  whi
leaves candy and other stuff. The Easter  Bunny  is  a  rabbit-spirit.  Long
ago, he was called the  "Easter  Hare".  Hares  and  rabbits  have  frequent
multiple births, so they became a symbol of fertility.
      Christians fast during the forty days before Easter.  They  choose  to
eat and drink only enough to feep themselves alive.
      The day preceding Lent is known as Shrove  Tuesday,  or  Pancake  Day.
Shrove Tuesday recalls the day when people went to Church ti confess and  be
shriven before Lent. But now  the  day  is  more  generally  connected  with
relics of the traditional  feasting  before  the  fast.  Shrove  Tuesday  is
famous for pancake calebration. There is  some  competition  at  Westminster
School: the pancakes are tossed over a bar by the cook and struggled for  by
a small group of selected boys. The boy  who  manages  to  get  the  largest
piece is given a present. This tradition dates from  1445.  In  the  morning
the first church  bell  on  Orley  is  rung  for  the  competitors  to  make
pancakes. The second ring is a signal for cooking them. The third  bell  set
rung for the copetitors to gather at the market  square.  Then  the  Pancake
bell is sounded and the ladies set off from the church porch, tossing  their
pancakes three times as they run. Each woman must wear an apron  and  a  hat
or scarf over her head. The winner is given a Prayer Book dy the Vicar.
      Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in  Lent.  It  is  customary  to
vasit one's mother on that day. Mother ought to be given a  present  -  tea,
flowers or a simnel cake. It is possible to buy the cake, they are  sold  in
every confectionery. But it is preferrable to  make  it  at  home.  The  way
Mothering Sunday is celebrated has much in  common  with  the  International
Women's Day celebration in Russia.
      Good Friday is the first Friday before Easter. It is the day when  all
sorts of taboos on various works are in force. Also it is  a  good  day  for
shifting beers, for sowing potatoes, peas, beans, parsley, and pruning  rose
trees. Good Friday brings the once sacred cakes, the famous Hot Cross  buns.
These must be spiced and the dough marked with a cross before baking.
      Eggs, chickens, rabbits and flowers  are  all  symbols  of  new  life.
Chocolate and fruit cake covered with marzipan show that  fasting  is  over.
Wherever Easter is celebrated, there Easter eggs are usually  to  be  found.
In England, just as in Russia, Easter is a time for giving and receiving  of
presents that traditionally take the form of an Easter egg. Easter egg is  a
real hard-boiled egg dyed in bright colors or decorated with some  elaborate
pattern. Coloring and decorating eggs for Easter is a very  ancient  custom.
Many people, however, avoid using artificial dyes and prefer  to  boil  eggs
with the outer skin of an onion, which  makes  the  eggs  shells  yellow  or
brown. In fact, the color depends on the amount  of  onion  skin  added.  In
ancient times they used many different natural dyes  fir  the  purpose.  The
dyes were obtained mainly from leaves, flowers and bark.
      At present Easter eggs are also  made  of  chocolate,  sugar,  metals,
wood, ceramics and other  materials  at  hand.  They  may  differ  in  size,
ranging from enormous to tiny, no bigger than a robin's egg.  Easter  Sunday
is solemnly celebrated in London. Each year  the  capital  city  of  Britain
greets the spring with a spectacular Easter Parade in  Battersea  Park.  The
great procession, or parade, begins at 3 p.m. The parade  consists  of  many
decorated floats, entered by various organizations in  and  outside  London.
Some of the finest bands in the country take part  in  the  parade.  At  the
rear of the parade is usually the  very  beautiful  float  richly  decorated
with flowers. It is called the Jersey one because the spring  flowers  bloom
early on the Island of Jersey.
      In England, children rolled eggs down hills on Easter morning, a  game
has been connected to the rolling away of the rock from Jesus Christ's  tomb
then He was resurrected. British settlers brought this  custom  to  the  New
World. It consists of rolling coloured, hardboiled egg down  a  slope  until
they are cracked and broken after whish they are eaten by their  owners.  In
some districts this is a competitive  game,  the  winner  being  the  player
whose egg remains longest undamaged, but  more  usually,  the  fun  consists
simply of the rolling and eating.

Harvest

Corn Dollies
      Many countries seem to have had a similar custom to  the  British  one
of making a design from the last sheaf of corn to be harvested.  In  Britain
a corn dolly is created by plaiting the  wheat  stalks  to  create  a  straw
figure. The corn dolly is kept until the  Spring.  This  is  because  people
believed that the corn spirit lived in  the  wheat  and  as  the  wheat  was
harvested, the spirit fled to the wheat  which  remained.  By  creating  the
corn dolly the spirit is kept alive for the next  year  and  the  new  crop.
Sometimes the  corn  dolly  is  hung  up  in  the  barn,  sometimes  in  the
farmhouse, and sometimes in the church. In Spring the corn  dolly  would  be
ploughed back into the soil. There are many types of corn dolly.


The story of John Barleycorn
      A story to the corn  dolly  is  to  be  found  in  the  folksong  John
Barleycorn. Three men swear that John  Barleycorn  must  die.  They  take  a
plough and bury him alive. But the Spring comes and John rises  through  the
soil. After a while he grows big and strong, even growing a  beard,  so  the
three men cut him down at the knee, tie him on to a cart,  beat  him,  strip
the flesh off his bones and grind him between two stones. But at the end  it
is John Barleycorn who defeats his opponents, proving the stronger  man,  by
turning into beer.

Harvest Festivals
      In churches all over Britain there are services to thank God  for  the
Harvest. As part of these services local people bring baskets of  fruit  and
vegetables to decorate the church. The produce is then  distributed  to  the
poor.

Halloween

      The  word  itself,  "Halloween,"  actually  has  its  origins  in  the
Catholic Church. It comes from a contracted corruption of All  Hallows  Eve.
November 1, "All Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a  Catholic  day  of
observance in honor of saints.  But,  in  the  5th  century  BC,  in  Celtic
Ireland, summer officially ended on  October  31.  The  holiday  was  called
Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year.
      One story says that, on that  day,  the  disembodied  spirits  of  all
those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back  in  search
of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to  be  their
only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space  and  time
were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit  world  to  intermingle
with the living.
      Naturally, the still-living did not want to be possessed.  So  on  the
night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires  in  their  homes,
to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up  in  all  manner
of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighborhood,  being  as
destructive as possible in  order  to  frighten  away  spirits  looking  for
bodies to possess.
      Probably a better explanation of  why  the  Celts  extinguished  their
fires was not to discourage spirit possession, but so that  all  the  Celtic
tribes could relight their fires from a  common  source,  the  Druidic  fire
that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland, at Usinach.
      Some accounts tell of how the Celts would burn someone  at  the  stake
who was thought to have already been possessed, as sort of a lesson  to  the
spirits. Other accounts of Celtic history debunk these stories as myth.  The
Romans adopted the Celtic practices as their own. But in the  first  century
AD, Samhain was assimilated into celebrations of some  of  the  other  Roman
traditions that took place in October, such as their day  to  honor  Pomona,
the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of  Pomona  is  the  apple,
which might explain the origin  of  our  modern  tradition  of  bobbing  for
apples on Halloween. The thrust of the practices also changed over  time  to
become more ritualized. As belief in spirit possession waned,  the  practice
of dressing  up  like  hobgoblins,  ghosts,  and  witches  took  on  a  more
ceremonial role.
      The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by  Irish
immigrants  fleeing  their  country's  potato  famine.  At  that  time,  the
favorite  pranks  in  New  England  included  tipping  over  outhouses   and
unhinging fence gates.
      The custom of trick-or-treating is  thought  to  have  originated  not
with the Irish Celts,  but  with  a  ninth-century  European  custom  called
souling. On November 2, All Souls Day,  early  Christians  would  walk  from
village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of  square  pieces  of
bread with currants. The more soul cakes  the  beggars  would  receive,  the
more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the  dead  relatives  of
the donors. At the time, it was believed that the  dead  remained  in  limbo
for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers,  could  expedite
a soul's passage to heaven.
      The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore.  As  the
tale is told, a man  named  Jack,  who  was  notorious  as  a  drunkard  and
trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image  of
a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the  tree.  Jack  made  a
deal with the devil that, if he  would  never  tempt  him  again,  he  would
promise to let him down the tree.
      According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he  was  denied  entrance
to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied  access  to  Hell
because he had tricked the devil. Instead,  the  devil  gave  him  a  single
ember to light his way through the frigid darkness.  The  ember  was  placed
inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
      The Irish used turnips as  their  "Jack's  lanterns"  originally.  But
when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far  more
plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a  hollowed-out
pumpkin, lit with an ember.
      So, although some pagan groups, cults, and Satanists may have  adopted
Halloween as their favorite "holiday," the day itself did not  grow  out  of
evil practices. It grew out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new  year,
and out of Medieval prayer  rituals  of  Europeans.  And  today,  even  many
churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin  carving  events  for  the  kids.
After all, the day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.
      Fire has always played an important part in Halloween. Fire  was  very
important to the Celts as it was to  all  early  people.  In  the  old  days
people lit bonfires to ward away evil spirits and in some places  they  used
to jump over the fire to bring good luck. Now we light  candles  in  pumpkin
lanterns.
      Halloween is also a good time to find out the  future.  Want  to  find
out who you will marry? Here are two ways you might try to find out:

- Apple-bobbing - Float a number of apples in a bowl of water,  and  try  to
catch one using only your teeth. When you have caught one, peel  it  in  one
unbroken strip, and throw the strip of peel over  your  left  shoulder.  The
letter the peel forms is the initial of your future husband or wife.
- Nut-cracking - Place two nuts (such as conkers) on a fire. Give  the  nuts
the names of two possible lovers and the one that cracks first will  be  the
one.

There are several unusual traditions:
"Wrong side of the bed"
      When people are bad tempered we say that they must have got out of
bed on the wrong side. Originally, it was meant quiet literally. People
believe that the way they rose in the morning affected their behavior
throughout the day. The wrong side of the bed was the left side. The left
always having been linked with evil.
"Blowing out the candles"
      The custom of having candles on birthday cakes goes back to the
ancient Greeks. Worshippers of Artemis, goddess of the moon and hunting,
used to place honey cakes on the altars of her temples on her birthday. The
cakes were round like the full moon and lit with tapers. This custom was
next recorded in the middle ages when German peasants lit tapers on
birthday cakes, the number lit indicating the person's age, plus an extra
one to represent the light of life. From earliest days burning tapers had
been endowed with mystical significance and it was believed that when blown
out they had the power to grant a secret wish and ensure a happy year
ahead.





"Customs and traditions of Great Britain"