The occasions a nation celebrates every year are the events that both distinguish one culture from another and may also join them in common. Some of our main calendar events are exclusively British while others are marked more universally around the world.
In British culture, some calendar events have their roots in ancient times that have passed into folklore or legend. Saints Days, for example, are marked by the societies from the countries of the United Kingdom, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, as national days of celebration. The stories of some of the Saints tell of happenings in ancient Britain that have passed down through feast days and as celebrations of national culture. The date is commemorated, to a lesser or greater degree, wherever those societies may be in the world. Being born or not in the land itself, or into family from the nation, need not be a factor in the participation and enjoyment of saints days celebrations and pageants. This is especially true of St Patricks Day, which has its own public holiday and is celebrated worldwide, which is testament to the Irish wanderlust and appetite for a good time!
Calendar days more closely rooted in the seasons originate from Britain’s rural heritage in the communities and customs that surround them, some going back as far as pagan times. For example May Day celebrations mark springtime fertility and the Harvest Festival celebrates the reaping and gathering of grain and produce. Both are still observed in rural areas.
Religious and spiritual days are marked to a varying degree. Christmas and Easter are almost universally recognised, not least because they are public holidays, but also for the traditional foods that are inextricably linked to them. The winter and summer Solstices, however, pass by unremarked by most of the population, but represent an important spiritual celebration for some.
These days there is an inevitable commercial flavour to many of Britain’s important days, to the extent that their original significance and meaning has been overwhelmed by the paraphernalia surrounding them. Many would say this is true of Christmas and there is a movement to at least limit the relentless drain of money and energy that goes into excessive Christmas shopping and consumption. Another example, Saint Valentines Day has almost lost its connection to the original saint and his association with courtly love, beneath the efforts or retailers to make commercial gain.
Some of our Calendar Events have evolved to take on board influences from other nations. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is an excuse for a fancy dress party rather than the original tradition of warding off evil spirits. The North American custom of ‘trick or treating’ has now permanently joined the traditional British version of the celebration. Father’s Day is an American import in its entirety.
British eccentricity also has its place on the annual calendar of events. Boxing Day, as well as being a day for major sporting fixtures, is also a day of numerous unofficial events or bizarre traditions such as duck races, barrel rolling and mass ‘chilly dipping’ swims in the sea. April Fool’s Day is another opportunity to revel in a bit of foolishness, only at someone else’s expense.
The most sober event of the British calendar is most certainly Remembrance Day, a memorial day for members of the armed service who have died in the line of duty. The official laying of wreaths, led by HM The Queen in Whitehall, London, is replicated with services and events at war memorials and churches throughout the British Isles.
Please browse our gallery of selected great British Calendar Events above for inspiration, and click to find useful information and links to help you learn about and enjoy them.