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British culture, British Customs and British Traditions

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This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!

What is a bank holiday?

In the United Kingdom and Ireland a bank holiday is a public holiday, when banks and many other businesses are closed for the day.

Bank holidays are often assumed to be so called because they are days upon which banks are shut, but days that banks are shut aren't always bank holidays. For example: Good Friday and Christmas Day are not bank holidays, they are common law' holidays. The dates for bank holidays are set out in statute or are proclaimed by royal decree. The term "bank holiday" was coined by Sir John Lubbock, who felt there was a need to differentiate the two types of holiday.

In England and Wales a bank holiday tends automatically to be a public holiday, so the day is generally observed as a holiday. A number of differences apply to Scotland. For example, Easter Monday is not a bank holiday, and, although they share the same name, the Summer Bank Holiday falls on the first Monday in August in Scotland as opposed to the last elsewhere in the UK.

Origins of bank holidays

Prior to 1834, the Bank of England observed about 33 saints' days and religious festivals as holidays, but in 1834, this was reduced to just four: 1 May, 1 November, Good Friday, and Christmas Day.

In 1871, Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act, it introduced the concept of holidays with pay and designated four holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and five in Scotland. These were Easter Monday, the first Monday in August, the 26th December, and Whit Monday (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and New Year's Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day (Scotland). In England, Wales and Ireland, Good Friday and Christmas Day were considered traditional days of rest (as were Sundays) and therefore it was felt unnecessary to include them in the Act. The move was such a popular one and there were even suggestions that August Bank Holiday should be called St Lubbock's day!

In Ireland, in 1903, the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act added 17 March, Saint Patrick's Day, as a bank holiday, and in 1926 the Governor of Northern Ireland proclaimed 12 July (Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690) as a bank holiday too. This particular holiday is proclaimed annually by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

In 2006, the Scottish Parliament designated St Andrew's Day, November 30, as an official bank holiday in Scotland. But there is no public holiday for St David's Day in Wales, or St George's Day in England.

From 1965 the date of the August bank holiday was changed to the end of the month in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Whitsun bank holiday (Whit Monday) was replaced by the late spring bank holiday - fixed as the last Monday in May.

Bank holidays today

The Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, is in force today and there are 8 permanent bank and public holidays in England and Wales, 9 in Scotland and 10 in Northern Ireland.

Ireland has the same eight holidays as England and Wales, plus St Patrick's Day and the Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

In Scotland, since the Scotland Act 1998 Scottish Ministers have the responsibility for setting bank holidays. There are other public or local holidays which can be determined by local authorities, based on local tradition. Since 2007, St Andrew's Day has been an alternative, voluntary public holiday, which can replace an existing local holiday. Businesses and schools are not necessarily closed on Scottish bank holidays, and the Scottish banks only follow the English and Welsh bank holidays for business reasons.

When the usual date of a bank or public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, a 'substitute day' is given, normally the following Monday.

Once upon a time everything shut on a bank holiday; offices, banks, shops, but nowadays many offices and shops remain open, only banks are not allowed to operate on bank holidays. Nowadays, the only day that most things close in the UK is Christmas Day.

Contrary to popular belief, people do not have an absolute right to paid leave on bank and public holidays, instead they are often part of their holiday leave, it depends on the terms of the contract of employment, but many people working on these days do receive extra money, often "time-and-a-half" or even "double time". Sometimes people will get time in lieu, which means they get paid for working and they get an extra days holiday, which they can take at another time.

People employed in essential services like utilities, fire, ambulance, police, health-workers, etc. usually receive extra pay for working on these days.

In spite of the terrible British weather, many people use bank holidays to go away for a long weekend. This means that museums and other public attractions; historic houses, zoos, sports centres, etc. remain open. But it also means that the traffic on British roads can be horrendous, often exaccerbated by essential road works, or engineering work on the railways. According to the RAC an estimated 11 million Britons take to their cars over the spring bank holiday.

Of course with the use of modern technology, most banks' telephone and internet banking services operate 24/7/365 - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every single day of the year.

Interesting Links

List of Bank Holidays
Holiday vs The weekend
British Culture