English Customs and Traditions
British customs and traditions are famous all over the world. England has preserved it's old ceremonies and traditions to a greater extend than any other country in the world. A lot of them have very long histories. Some are funny and some are strange.
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So many countries so many customs, an English proverb says. The combination of the words tradition & custom means a usual manner of doing smth, a believe of principal, of conduct passed on from generation to generation. English traditions can be subdivided into the traditions dealing with private life of the English national & religious holidays, public celebrations, traditional ceremonies & traditional sporting events. A great number of customs & traditions date back to the early days of GB & we can justly say that they are the reflection of the country"s history & the peoples phyhology. To know the customs & traditions means to understand the people, their art & culture better. In the matter of holidays the British are less well off than other Europeans. They have such holidays celebrated: New Years Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day, Spring Bank Holiday, Summer Bank Holiday, Christmas Day & Boxing Day.
The British have many traditions, manners & customs of which they can be proud. England has preserved it's old ceremonies & traditions to a greater extend than any other country in the world. Most of this traditions have been kept up without interruption since the thirteenth century. Foreigners coming to England are impressed by a great number of ceremonies which seem to be incompatible with the modern traffic & technical conditions of a highly developed country.
Some British customs and traditions are famous all over the world. Bowler hats, tea and talking about the weather, for example. But what about the others? Who was Guy Fawkes? Why does the Queen have two birthdays? And what is the word "pub" short for?
From Scotland to Cornwall, Britain is full of customs and traditions. A lot of them have very long histories. Some are funny and some are strange. But they're all interesting. There are all the traditions of British sport and music. There's the long menu of traditional British food. There are many royal occasions. There are songs, sayings and superstitions. They are all part of the British way of life.
A year in Britain
The Shetlands are islands near Scotland. In the ninth centurv, men from Norway came to the Shetlands. These were the Vikings. They came to Britain in ships and carried away animals, gold, and sometimes women and children, too.
Now, 1 ,OOO years later, people in the Shetlands remember the Vikings with a festival. Fhey call the festival "Up-Helly-Aa".
Every winter the people of Lerwick, a town in the Shetlands, make a model of a ship. It's a Viking "long-ship", with the head of a dragon at the front. Then, on Up-Helly-Aa night in January, the Shetlanders dress in Viking clothes. They carry the ship through the town to the sea. There they burn it. They do this because the Vikings put their dead men in ships and burned them. But there aren't any men in the modern ships. Now the festival is a party for the people of the Shetland Islands.
St Valentine's Day
St Valentine is the saint of people in love, and St Valentine's Day is February 14th. On that day, people send Valentine cards and presents to their husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. You can also send a card to a person you don't know. But traditionally you must never write your name on it. Some British newspapers have a page for Valentine's Day messages on Februarv 14th.
St David's Day
March 1st is a very important day for Welsh people. It's St David's Day. He's the "patron" or national saint of Wales.
On March 1st, the Welsh celebrate St David's Day and wear daffodils in the buttonholes of their coats or jackets.
April Fool's Day
April 1st is April Fool's Day in Britain. This is a very old tr~dition from the Middle Ages (between the fifth and fifteenth centuries). At that time the servants were masters for one day of the year. They gave orders to their masters, and their masters had to obey.
Now April Fool's Day is different. It's a day for jokes and tricks.
MAY english custom tradition
May 1st was an important day in the Middle Ages. In the very early morning, young girls went to the fields and washed their faces with dew. They believed this made them very beautiful for a year affer that. Also on May Day the young men of each village tried to win prizes with their bows and arrows, and people danced round the maypole.
Many English-villages still have a maypole, and on May 1st, the villagers dance round it. You can see one in the picture below.
Midsummer's Day, June 24th, is the longest day of the year. On that day you can see a very old custom at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge is one of Europe's biggest stone circles. A lot of the stones are ten or twelve metres high. It's also very old. The earliest part of Stonehenge is nearly 5,000 years old.
But what was Stonehenge? A holy place? A market? Or was it a kind of calendar? We think the Druids used it for a calendar. The Druids were the priests in Britain 2,000 years ago. They used the sun and the stones at Stonehenge to know the start of months and seasons. There are Druids in Britain today, too. And every June 24th a lot of them go to Stonehenge. On that morning the sun shines on one famous stone - the Heel stone. For the Druids this is a very important moment in the year. But for a lot of British people it's just a strange old custom.
October 31st is Hallowe'en, and you can expect to meet witches and ghosts that night. Hallowe'en is an old word for "Hallows Evening", the night before "All Hallows" or "All Saints' Day"
On thai one night of the year, ghosts and witches are free. Well, that's the traditional story. A long time ago people were afraid and stayed at home on Hallowe'en. But now in Britain its a time for fun. There are always a lot of parties on October 31st. At these parties people wear masks and they dress as ghosts and witches, or as Dracula or Frankenstein's monster. And some people make special Hallowe'en lamps Irom a large fruit the pumpkin.
First they take out the middle of the pumpkin. Ihen they cut holes for the eyes, nose and mouth. Finally they put a candle inside the pumpkin.
Guy Fawkes' Day
November 5th is Guy Faw kes Day in Britain. All over the country people build wood fires or "bonfires", in their gardens. On top of each bonfire is a guy. That's a figure of Guy Fawkes. People make guys with straw, old clothes and newspapers. But before November 5th, children use their guys to make money They stand in the street and shout "Penny for the guy". Then they spend the money on fireworks. But how did this tradition start? Who was Guy Fawkes and why do the British remember him on November 5th?
On November 5th 1605, Guy Fawkes tried to kill King James I. He and a group of friends put a bomb under the Houses of Parliament in London. But the King's men found the bomb and they found Guy Fawkes, too. They took him to the Tower of London and there the King's men cut off his head.
Christmas and the New Year
There are lots of Christmas and New Year traditions in Britain.
London's Ghristmas decorations Every year the people 9f Norway give the city of London a present.. It's a big Christmas tree and it stands in Trafalgar Square. Also in central London, Oxford Street and Regent Street always have beautiful decorations at Christmas. Thousands of people come to look at them.
Cards, trees and mistletoe In 1846 the first Christmas cards began in Britain. That was five years after the first Christmas tree. Queen
Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, brought this German tradition (he was German) to Britain. He and the Queen had a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1841. A few years after, nearly every house in Britain had one.
Traditionally people decorate their trees on Christmas Eve - that's December 24th. They take down the decorations twelve days later, on Twelfth Night (January 5th).
An older tradition is Christmas mistletoe. People put a piece of this green plant with its white berries over a door. Mistletoe brings good luck, people say. Also, at Christmas British people kiss their friends and family under the mistletoe.
Before Christmas, groups of singers go from house to house. They collect money and sing traditional Christmas songs or carols. There are a lot of very popular British Christmas carols. Three fanous ones are:
"Good King Wenceslas", "The Holly and The Ivy" and "We Three Kings".
British children don't open their presents on December 24th. Father Christmas brings their presents in the night. Then they open them on the morning of the 25th.
There's another name for Father Christmas in Britain - Santa Claus. That comes from the European name for him - Saint Nicholas. In the traditional story he lives at the North Pole. But now he lives in big shops in towns and cities all over Britain. Well, that's where children see him in November and
December. Then on Christmas Eve he visits every house. He climbs down the chimney and leaves lots of presents. Some people leave something for him, too. A glass of wine and some biscuits, for example.
In Britain the most important meal on December 25th is
Christmas dinner. Nearly all Christmas food is traditional, but a lot of the traditions are not very old. For example, there were no turkeys in Britain before 1800. And even in the nineteenth century, goose was the traditional meat at Christmas. But not now.
A twentieth-century British Christmas dinner is roast turkey with carrots, potatoes, peas, Brussels sprouts and gravy. There are sausages and bacon too. Then, after the turkey, there's Christmas pudding. You can read about that in the chapter on food.
Crackers are also usual at Christmas dinner. These came to Britain from China in the nineteenth century. Two people pull a cracker. Usually there's a small toy in the middle. Often there's a joke on a piece of paper, too. Most of the jokes in Christmas crackers are not very good. Here's an example:
CUSTOMER: Waiter, there's a frog in my soup.
WAITER: Yes, sir, the fly's on holiday.
December 26th is Boxing Day. Traditionally boys from the shops in each town asked for money at Christmas. They went from house to house on December 26th and took boxes made of wood with them. At each house people gave them money. This was a Christmas present. So the name of December 26th doesn't come from the sport of boxing - it comes from the boys' wooden boxes. Now, Boxing Day is an extra holiday after Christmas Day.
In Scotland the name for New Year's Eve is Hogmanay. Affer midnight people visit their friends. And they take a present - a piece of coal. Why? Because traditionally the first visitor of the year must carry coal into the house. This is "first footing". It brings good luck. It also helps to make a fire in the middle of winter.
New Year Resolutions What are your worst faults? Do you want to change them? In Britain a lot of people make New Year Resolutions on the evening of December 31st. For example, "I'll get up early every morning next ~ or ''I'll clean my shoes every day.'' But there's a problem. Most people forget their New Year Resolutions on January 2nd.
THE TROOPING OF THE COLOUR
The Queen is the only person in Britain with two birthdays. Her real birthday is on April 21st, but she has an "official" birthday, too. That's on the second Saturday in June. And on the Queen's official birthday, there is a traditional ceremony called the Trooping of the Colour. It's a big parade with brass bands and hundreds of soldiers at Horse Guards' Parade in London. A "regiment" of the Queen's soldiers, the Guards, march in front of her. At the front of the parade is the regiment's flag or "colour".
The Guards are trooping the colour. Thousands of Londoners and visitors watch in Horse Guards' Parade. And millions of people at home watch it on television.
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD
This happens every day at Buckingham Palace, the Queen's home in London. Soldiers stand in front of the palace. Each morning these soldiers (the "guard") change. One group leaves and another arrives. In summer and winter tourists stand outside the palace at 11.30 every morning and watch the Changing of the Guard.
Maun4y Thursday is the day before Good Friday, at Easter. On that day the Queen gives Maundy money to a group of old people. This tradition is over 1,000 years old. At one time the king or queen washed the feet of poor, old pedple on Maundy Thursday. That stopped in 1754.
Here's a very different royal tradition. On the River Thames there are hundreds of swans. A lot of these beautiful white birds belong, traditionally, to the king or queen. In July the young swans on the Thames are about two months old. Then the Queen's swan keeper goes, in a boat, from London Bridge to Henley. He looks at all the young swans and marks the royal ones. The name of this strange but interesting custom is Swan Upping.
THE QUEEN'S TELEGRAM
This custom is not very old, but it's for very old people. On his or her one hundredth birthday, a British person gets a telegram from the Queen.
THE BIRTHDAY HONOURS LIST AND THE NEW
YEAR'S HONOURS LIST
Twice a year at Buckingham Palace, the Queen gives titles or
"honours", once in January and once in June. There are a lot of different honours. Here are a few:
C.B.E. - Companion of the British Empire
O.B.E. - Order of the British Empire
M.B.E. - Member of the British Empire
(These honours began in the nineteenth century. Then Britain
had an empire.)
Knighthood- a knight has "Sir" before his name. A new knight kneels in front of the Queen. She touches first his right shoulder, then his left shoulder with a sword. Then she says "Arise, Sir. . . [his first name]", and the knight stands.
Peerage - a pee~ is a lord. Peers sit in the House of Lords. That's one part of the Houses of Parliament. The other part is the House of Commons. Peers call the House of Commons "another place".
Dame/Baroness - these are two of the highest honours for a woman.
THE STATE OPENING OF PARLlAMENT
Parliament, not the Royal Family, controls modern Britain. But traditionally the Queen opens Parliament every autumn. She travels from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament in a gold carriage - the Irish State Coach. At the Houses of Parliament the Queen sits on a "throne" in the House of Lords. Then she reads the "Queen's Speech". At State Opening of Parliament the Queen wears a crown. She wears other jewels from the Crown Jewels, too.
THE ORDER OF THE GARTER CEREMONY
The Order of the Garter ceremony has a long history. King Edward III started the Order in the fourteenth centur', that time, the people in the Order were the twent', four bravest knights inEngland. Now the knights of thc Order aren't all soldiers. They're members of the House of Lords, church leaders or politicians. There are some foreign knights, too. For example, the King of Norway, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the Emperor of Japan. They're called Extra Knights of the Garter. The Queen is the Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. But she isn't the only royal person in the Order. Prince Charles and Prince Philip are Royal Knights, and the Queen Mother is a Lady of the Garter.
In June the Order his a traditional ceremony at Windsor Castle. This is the Queen's favourite castle. It's also the home of the Order ~ the Garter. All the knights walk from the castle to St George's Chapel. the royal church at Windsor. They wear the traditional Clt)thCS or "robes" of the Order. These robes are verv heavv. In tact King Edward VIII once called them 'ridiculous". But they're an important part of one ot Britain's oldest traditions.
THE QUEEN'S CHRISTMAS SPEECH
Now here's a modern royal custom. On Christmas Day at 3.00 in the afternoon the Queen makes a speech on radio and TV. It's ten minutes long. In it she talks to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a large group of countries. In the past they were all in the British Empire. Australia, India, Canada and New Zealand are among the 49 members.
The B.B.C. (the British Broadcasting Corporation) sends the Queen's speech to every Commonwealth countrv. In her speech the Queen talks about the past year. Traditionallv in speeches, kings or queens say "we" not "I" Queen Elizabeth II doesn't do this. She says "My husband and I" or just 'I''.
The Queen doesn't make her speech on Christrnas Day. She films it a few weeks before. Then she spends Christmas with her familY at Windsor. Does she watch the speech on TV? Nobody knows.
Songs, sayings and superstitions
There are thousands of traditional songs and sayings in English. Many of them tell stones about British historv. For example, here's one about the Great Plague.
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down.
The Great Plague was an illness and it killed millions of people in Europe in the seventeenth century. One of the signs of the illness was j circle of red marks. Thev looked like roses, and that explains the first line of the song. In the second line, "posies" are small bunches of flowers. People carried flowers because of the smell of the Plague. "A-tishoo" is the sound of a sneeze. That was another sign of the Plague. Then, after a few days, people "fell down" or died.
How many of these traditional songs do you know?
Happy Birthday To You - You sing this song at birthday parties. People all over the world sing it.
Auld Lang Syne - This is a song from Scotland. Most people only sing it once a year, on New Year's Eve. "Auld Lang Syne" means "a long time ago". The song says, "we must never forget old friends".
God Save The Queen - This is Britain's national song or "anthem."
Do vou believe in good luck and bad luck? Most people in the world have some superstitions. These are a few British superstitions with long traditions.
-Black cats are lucky
-Clover is a small plant. Usually it has three leaves, but a few have four. A clover with four leaves brings good luck.
-A horseshoe over the door of a new home brings good luck. But the horseshoe must be the right way up. l~he luck runs out of a horseshoe if it's upside down.
-On the first day of the month it's lucky to say 'White rabbits".
-It's good luck to see two magpies (large black and white birds).
-Catch falling leaves in autumn and you'll have good luck. Everv leaf means a lucky month in the next year.
-Never open an umbrella in the house. That's very bad luck. Never break a mirror - that means seven years' bad luck. It's bad luck to see just one magpie.
-Don't walk under a ladder.
-Don't walk past soinchody on the stairs.
-The number thirteen i~ very unlucky (and Friday the 13th is a "cry unlucky date).
Here are ten British "proverbs" or sayings.
1. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
You have to try or you won't get anything.
2. One man's meal is another man's poison.
People often don't like the same things.
3. The other man's grass is a/way's greener.
You always think that other people's lives are better than yours.
4. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Don't question good luck.
5.Every cloud has a silver lining.
There's always some thing good in bad times.
6. It's no use crying over spilt milk. Don't be too sad after a small acciden~.
7. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. From one problem to another.
8. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Stupid people do things that other people never do.
9. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.
You can give a person a chance, but you can't make him or her take it.
10. A stitch in time saves nine.
Act early and you can save a lot of trouble.
Food and drink