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Festivals in England

The Queen is head of state in England and also holds the title of “Head of the Church of England”. Notionally, therefore, England is a Protestant Christian country though there is not an ‘official religion’. Many English holidays and festivals are based upon the historic Christian calendar but most English people of European origin are atheist, agnostic or non-practicing Protestants. Modern England is a highly multi-cultural society with a large Muslim population estimated at around 4 million and also substantial Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish and Roman Catholic communities. In several of the bigger English city centers, including London, the majority of the population was born outside of the UK or to parents who were. This means that local festivals in cities are numerous, celebrating the local ethnic traditions of their populations. That includes Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Afro-Caribbeans and Chinese. This adds huge diversity and color to local celebrations such as Diwali for Hindus. The English national day is St. George’s Day (23rd April) but few English people know that today and it is not widely celebrated or recognized.

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Top 10 Festivals in England

  • Christmas. In England, this is probably the most important festival of the year for families and involves over-eating and over-drinking coupled with gift-giving. The 26th December (Boxing Day) is also included in the holiday.
  • New Year’s Eve/Day. The 31st December is not an official holiday but many people finish work early to prepare for a night of celebrations running into the early hours. This is party time and 1st January is the official holiday (to recover!)
  • Easter. Another traditional family weekend starting on Good Friday and including Easter Monday. Chocolate eggs are exchanged and a special meal eaten on the Sunday. Easter egg hunts and egg-rolling competitions are held in some places. The dates of this weekend change each year but it’s held in early spring.
  • Guy Fawkes’ Night (Bonfire Night). Held every 5th November, this involves lighting large fires in public places, firework displays and the burning an effigy called ‘The Guy’. This bizarre ritual commemorates the attempt of a group of plotters to blow up Parliament in 1605 and even stranger is the fact that “Guy Fawkes” was a very junior member of the group – the names of the others have now largely been forgotten!
  • Bank holidays. There are several of these throughout the year. Apart from Good Friday, they are all Mondays and are public holidays to celebrate not much in particular! The dates can change.
  • Notting Hill Carnival. The biggest Afro-Caribbean celebration in Europe, this goes on for several days in London and involves vast numbers of people and floats. Very exuberant!
  • The Proms (Promenades). A series of music concerts held in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Immensely popular and the Last Night concert attracts huge crowds in Hyde Park to watch it live on giant screens.
  • The Lord Mayor’s Show. This is a major procession through the streets of London with bands and floats. It has been held annually for nearly 500 years and involves the new Mayor of London progressing through The City to swear allegiance to the sovereign. Very colorful and historic. It’s the second Saturday in November each year.
  • Halloween. Not a holiday but a big night for smaller children and their families. Held on the last night of October, it involves dressing up in ‘scary’ clothes. This is growing in popularity in recent years and although of European pre-Christian origin, it was largely forgotten about in England until re-introduced as a family fun night from the USA.
  • May Day. This is the 1st May and is not to be confused with the official May holiday held on the first working Monday of May. May Day again has pre-Christian origins and celebrates the arrival of spring. Usually involves village-fair type celebrations and is celebrated largely in small town and rural England rather than the cities.



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3 Big Festival events to watch out for in England

  • Trooping of the Color. Held in June, this is a large military display in London where each year one of the Guards regiments present and ‘receive’ their regimental colors from the King or Queen.
  • The Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race. Held each year on the Thames, this is a race between boats from the two ancient universities. A big spectacle and very popular - though nobody is too sure why!
  • Royal Ascot. A series of horse races but where the top of British society and royalty turn up to be seen. Watch out for the unbelievably extravagant hats and dresses of female attendees!