When are Britain’s public holidays? What’s on in Britain? This short guide to Britain’s calendar answers those questions, by listing significant dates and events from January to December. Unless specifically stated, a date or event is not a public holiday.
In Britain, there is little practical difference between a public or a bank holiday, and the terms are used interchangeably. A bank holiday is a legal holiday on a weekday when banks, schools and other institutions are closed. Bank holidays can affect travel – for example, public transport companies usually operate Sunday services and traffic on roads is heavier. If a bank holiday date falls over a weekend, a substitute weekday – usually the next Monday – becomes the Bank Holiday.
Links to articles on A Bit About Britain have been included where appropriate, as well as links to useful official websites in the second column. Note that some dates – for example, Easter, fathers’ day – vary every year; these are shown with a ‘V’ (clever, eh?).
New Year’s Day
UK Bank Holiday.
Scottish Bank Holiday.
Celebrates the Scottish poet’s birthday in 1759. Dine on haggis, neeps and tatties, washed down with whisky. Burns, an’ a’ that.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year falls during late January-early February. Parades and celebrations take place in many UK cities; the largest is usually in London.
St Valentine’s Day
Valentine might have been more than one person, but is generally considered to be the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers. Be my Valentine?
The British record industry’s annual popular music awards take place in mid-February.
St David’s Day
St David is the patron saint of Wales. Britain’s smallest city, St Davids, is named after him.
St Patrick’s Day
St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, but his day is often loudly celebrated in some parts of Britain as well. It is mostly associated with drinking too much.
Mothers’ Day, or, more properly, Mothering Sunday, falls in late March or early April on the fourth Sunday of Lent and three weeks before Easter Sunday.
British Summer Time (BST)
The clocks go forward 1 hour at 1am on the last Sunday in March, making the evenings lighter for longer. The clocks go back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) at 2am on the last Sunday in October. Remember which way the clocks go, albeit by borrowing from the US – “Spring forward, Fall back.”
The Boat Race
The Boat Race – the annual rowing boat race between the universities of Cambridge (light blue) and Oxford (dark blue) takes place on the River Thames around Easter. The first race was in 1829 and it has been an annual event since 1856 (except for during the two World Wars). The first women’s boat race took place in 1927 and has been held annually since 1964. The course is 4 miles and 374 yards (6.8 km) between Putney (close to the bridge) and Mortlake (near Chiswick Bridge). It is free to watch, but get there early.
April Fool’s Day
Possibly dates from the time when 25 March was New Year’s Day and 1 April, a week later, marked the end (or height) of festivities and fun. Another theory is that when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1562, New Year’s Day changed to 1 January and those who didn’t hear the news, or forgot, were called fools.
End of the tax year
This bizarre date is another hang over from the change to the Gregorian calendar, which Britain did not adopt until 1752, by which time Britain was 11 days out of synch with everyone else. The old tax year ended on 25 March (old New Year’s Day), so to ensure full 365 days revenue, the British Treasury decided the tax year would end on 5 April.
UK Bank Holiday.
The date of Easter varies depending on which calendar is used, and the moon. The UK uses the Gregorian calendar and marks Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurs after the first day of spring (the Vernal Equinox). Thus, Easter falls somewhere between late March and April. Whitby Abbey and the Easter problem.
Few mark the occasion except the commercially-minded in his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon. William Shakespeare was baptized on 26 April 1564 and died on 23 April 1616. His birth date is unknown, though some believe it was 23 April.
More recently Labour Day.
Early May Bank Holiday
The first Monday in May is Early May Bank Holiday in Scotland and normally for the whole of the UK.
Spring Bank Holiday
The last Monday is the Spring Bank Holiday in England and Wales and normally for the whole of the UK.
The FA Cup Final
The FA Cup final is the culmination of a knockout football (soccer) competition – reckoned to be the oldest national football competition in the world – involving English and Welsh teams and takes place in May or June. The first final took place in 1872 at Kennington Oval between the Royal Engineers and Wanderers; Wanderers won 1-0. The Scottish Cup competition has taken place in parallel since the 1873-4 season.
Oak Apple Day
Also known as Royal Oak Day, Restoration Day, Pinch-Bum Day and Nettle Day. This used to be a public holiday in England, commemorating the restoration of the monarchy, in May 1660. 29 May was also Charles II’s birthday. Why 467 pubs are called the Royal Oak.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place every August alongside the Edinburgh festivals. It attracts thousands of visitors from overseas as well as all over the UK and takes place against the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
Summer Bank Holiday
The last Monday of August is the late Summer Bank Holiday in England and Wales.