Some people find Winter in Britain depressing; the days are short, cold, and many people go to work and return home in the dark. Contrary to Christmas card imagery, heavy snow is rare – except in the high hills and mountains – and the predominant weather often seems to be dreary, sometimes relentless, rain. That said, it’s hard to beat a clear, frosty, winter’s morning – which can appear anytime from Autumn. Snow, and the coldest temperatures, tend to feature from late December to February. And then there’s Christmas which, notwithstanding the crass commercial aspects, is a special time for most people.
Apart from Christmas, what goes on during winter in Britain? Here is a selection of notable dates and events for December, January and February. Wherever possible, a link takes you to another website or page for more information.
December in Britain
The Winter Solstice – the shortest day and the longest night – takes place on or around 21 December. Thousands congregate at ancient sites, such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, to welcome the rising sun.
25 December, Christmas Day, is a Bank Holiday in the UK – as is the following day, Boxing Day. If either or both days fall over a weekend, the Bank Holiday is carried forward to the next weekday. See the A-Z of Christmas for traditions and their origins.
31 December, New Year’s Eve, isn’t a Bank Holiday, but many shops and businesses close early. New Year is generally celebrated around the country, with public celebrations in major cities, such as Edinburgh and London. Some of these events are ticket only, though of course fireworks can be observed from local viewpoints such as Primrose Hill in London or Calton Hill in Edinburgh.
Allendale Baal Festival – also known as the Tar Barl, Bah’l and Bahl, the Allendale Tar Bar’l is a more exclusive New Year event – a traditional fire festival, possibly originating in the middle ages. Key figures are 45 guisers, local men who carry whiskey barrels filled with burning hot tar in a colourful procession through the town of Allendale, near Hexham. Read more about the Allendale Baal Festival on the Visit Northumberland website
Stonehaven Fireballs Festival – residents of this Aberdeenshire town parade along the High Street on Hogmanay, swinging giant fireballs to drive evil spirits away and purge the old year. Details on the Stonehaven Fireballs website.
1 January, New Year’s Day, is a Bank Holiday in the UK. 2 January is a Scottish Bank Holiday.
Up Helly Aa – the famous Up Helly Aa fire festival held in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland, to mark the end of the Yule season, takes place on the last Tuesday in January. The festival involves a torchlit procession by squads of costumed participants (known as guisers) that culminate in the burning of Viking galley. The celebration is said to have developed from a tradition of tar barrelling. Here’s the Up Helly Aa website
Burn’s Night is on 25 January (the date celebrates the Scottish poet’s birthday in 1759). Dine on haggis, neeps and tatties, washed down with whisky. Find out a bit about Burns and what goes into a Burns’ Night. “Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!” – and so on.
Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year falls during late January-early February. Parades and celebrations take place in many UK cities, such as Liverpool and Manchester, though the largest is usually in London.
February in Britain
14 February is St Valentine’s Day. A time for romance. Valentine might have been more than one person, but is generally considered to be the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers.
The Brit Awards – the British record industry’s annual popular music awards take place in mid-February. Attendance is by invitation only, though I daresay they’d let Adele in if she just turned up. Lesser mortals watch it on TV. The Brits’ website
Shropshire Day – 23 February (the feast day of St Milburga), celebrating the county sometimes abbreviated to ‘Salop’. Shropshire’s county town is Shrewsbury.
Finally, in February you should spot some snowdrops; a sign that winter is ending and spring is just around the corner.
If you spot any errors in these details, or want to suggest a winter event you feel has been missed, please get in touch using the contact page.