It's here again, the day when boys and girls, sweethearts and lovers, husbands and wives, friends and neighbours, and even the office staff will exchange greetings of affection, undying love or satirical comment. And the quick, slick, modern way to do it is with a Valentine card.
In the last century, sweethearts of both sexes would spend hours fashioning a home-made card or present. The results of some of those painstaking efforts are still preserved in museums. Lace, ribbon, wild flowers, coloured paper, feathers and shells, all were brought into use. If the aspiring (or perspiring) lover had difficulty in thinking up a message or rhyme there was help at hand. He could dip into The Quiver of Love or St. Valentine s Sentimental Writer, these books giving varied selections to suit everyone's choice.
The first Valentine of all was a bishop, a Christian martyr, who before he was put to death by the Romans sent a note of friendship to his jailer's blind daughter.
The Christian Church took for his saint's day February 14, the date of an old pagan festival when young Roman maidens threw decorated love missives into an urn to be drawn out by their boy friends.
Comic valentines are also traditional. The habit of sending gifts is dying out, which must be disappointing for the manufacturers, who nevertheless still hopefully dish out presents for Valentine's Day in an attempt to cash in. And the demand for valentines is increasing. According to one manufacturer, an estimated 30 million cards will have been sent by February, 14 - and not all cheap stuff, either.
There are all kinds:
The sick joke - reclining lady on the front, and inside she will "kick you in the ear".
The satirical «You are charming, witty, intelligent, etc.» and «if you believe all this you must be...»inside the card you find an animated cuckoo clock.
And the take-off of the sentimental - "Here's the key to my heart... use it before I change the lock."
And the attempts to send a serious message without being too sickly, ending with variations of "mine" and "thine" and "Valentine"
PANCAKE DAY Pancake Dàó is the popular name for Shrove Tuesday, the day preceding the first day of Lent. In medieval times the day was characterized by merry-making and feasting, a relic of which is the eating of pancakes
PANCAKE BELL Ringing the Pancake Bell on Shrove Tuesday is an old and once widespread custom which still survives in a number of parishes. Originally, this bell had nothing to do with pancakes. It was the Shriving Bell, which rang to summon the faithful to church, there to confess their sins to be shriven in preparation for the holy season of Lent. After the Reformation, the bell continued to be rung although the religious reason for it had ceased, and came to be regarded as a signal for the holiday revels to begin. Now that Shrove Tuesday has lost much of its festival character, it is often supposed to ring as a warning for housewives to start preparing their pancakes. Usually it is sounded at about eleven o'clock in the morning, but the hour varies in different parishes, and may be earlier or later.
MOTHERING SUNDAY (MOTHER'S DAY) Mid-Lent Sunday, the fourth in Lent, has more than one name, but for English people the best-known of these names is Mothering Sunday. For at least three centuries this anniversary has been a day of small family reunions, when absent sons and daughters return to their homes, and gifts are made to mothers by their children of all ages. Evidently family gatherings and "going a-mothering" were already well established in the middle of the seventeenth century.
"Going a-mothering" never quite vanished from the English scene, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it gradually became less widespread.
But during the last twenty years or so, it has blossomed anew, and today it is again well known.
This is sudden re-flowering of an ancient custom is at least partly due to the American servicemen stationed in England during the Second World War. They confused our Mothering Sunday with their own Mother's Day, and by doing so helped to infuse new life into the former. In actual fact, the two festivals are quite unrelated, being totally different in origin and history, and falling on different dates. The English Mothering Sunday custom developed from a medieval ecclesiastical practice, and has never lost its connection with the Church calendar. The American Mother's Day is a modem secular anniversary which began only in 1907.
EASTER GOOD FRIDAY For centuries, Good Friday has been observed by Christians everywhere as the most solemn fast of the year, a day of penitence and mourning when the Crucifixion is commemorated. Good Friday is an official holiday in Britain, and for many it has come to mean chiefly the first opportunity in the year to escape from the town to the seaside or into the country. Yet, even among those who don't go to church on Good Friday, there's often a deep feeling that it is a special day.
This manifests itself in superstitious fear that to do one's customary work will somehow bring misfortune. Until recently, coalminers refused to work on Good Friday, believing that there would be a disaster in the mine if they did. Fishermen used to consider it both impious and ill-omened to put to sea on Good Friday. And there are still housewives who believe that to wash clothes on Good Friday is to provoke misfortune, perhaps a death in the family.
EASTER Both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Churches expect their members to receive Holy Communion at Easter.
Easter is a time when certain old traditions are observed, whether it is celebrated as the start of spring or a religious festival. In England it is a time for the giving and receiving of presents which traditionally take the form of an Easter egg. Nowadays Easter eggs are usually made of chocolate, but the old custom of dyeing or painting egg-shells is still maintained in some country districts.
Wherever Easter is celebrated, there Easter eggs are usually to be found. In their modern form, they are frequently artificial, mere imitations of the real thing, made of chocolate or marzipan or sugar, or of two pieces of coloured and decorated cardboard fitted together to make an egg-shaped case containing some small gift. They are, however, comparative newcomers, hardly more than a hundred years old. Artificial eggs do not seem to have been used before the middle of last century, and popular as they are today, they have not yet entirely displaced the true Easter egg of tradition.
This is a real egg, hard-boiled, dyed in bright colours, and sometimes elaborately decorated. It still appears upon countless breakfast-tables on Easter Day, or is hidden about the house and garden for the children to find. It is one of the most widespread of Easter gifts, and it is also the oldest, with an ancestry running far back into pre-Christian times.
HOT GROSS BUNS Eating hot cross buns at breakfast on Good Friday morning is a custom which still flourishes in most English households. Formerly, these round, spiced cakes marked with a cross, eaten hot, were made at home by housewives who rose at dawn for the purpose, or by local bakers who worked through the night to have them ready for delivery to their customers in time for breakfast. In towns, and especially in London, street vendors used to come out early in the morning, carrying trays or baskets full of hot buns covered by a blanket and white cloth to preserve the heat, and crying as they went:
Hot Cross Buns!
Hot Cross Buns!
Hot cross buns have a long ancestry, running backwards into pre-Christian times. Small cakes made of wheaten flour and marked with a cross were eaten in spring by the pagan Greeks and Romans, particularly at the festival of Diana. The early Saxons also seem to have eaten similar cakes round about the same March date. It is certain that hot cross buns were popular in England by the early eighteenth century, and they have remained so ever since.
APRIL FOOLS' DAY ALL FOOLS' DAThe first day of April is known in England as All Fools Day, or April Fool's
Day or, in some northern districts as April Noddy Day.
One of the earliest known English examples of this last trick is recorded in Drake's News-Letter for April 2nd, 1698, where we read that a number of people received invitations to see the lions washed at the Tower of London on April 1 st, and duly went there for the purpose. Precisely the same trick was played with equal success by some unknown person in 1860.
On the stroke of noon, all ends. This rule is rigidly observed everywhere. If anyone attempts a trick after midday, the intended victim retorts,
April Fool's gone past,
You're the biggest fool at last,
or April Noddy's past and gone,
You're the fool and I'm none,
MAY DAY (MAY 1) May Day (May 1) festivities probably originated in the Roman Floralia, festival in honour of Flora, goddess of flowers. In England, flowers and boughs of hawthorn (may) were brought from the woods, the prettiest girl in the village was chosen queen of the may and crowned, with flowers, and maypoles were set up, around which dancers revolved, each holding a coloured ribbon attached to the top of the pole and plaiting and unplaiting those ribbons in the course of their evolutions. Maypole dancing was disapproved by the Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries, as an idolatrous survival, and was forbidden under the Commonwealth. May Day was also the traditional holiday for chimney-sweeps. For the Celtic May Day festival, called Beltane, fires were kindled on the hilltops.
MAYPOLE The Maypole is an ancient fertility emblem belonging to the beginning of Summer, and it also represents a tree; indeed, at one time it was a tree, brought in from the woods with ceremony, and set up on the village green. In the darkness of the early morning, the young people went out on May Day and cut down a tall, young tree, lopped off most of its branches, leaving only a few at the top, and so brought it home, to be adorned with flowers and garlands, and to serve as a centre for their dances.
There are still a good many Maypoles today. Most schools have them, on May Day, or on some convenient day during the month, and some villages maintain the old tradition, especially in places where there are standing-poles.
MAY QUEEN In most modern revivals of the old May Day celebrations the central figure is commonly the May Queen, usually a schoolgirl elected by some local notability. Formerly, she was not a child, but a young woman, the prettiest girl in the area or the most popular, and she was not usually alone, as she is now. There was often a May King who reigned with her, or a Lord and Lady of the May.
SPRING BANK HOLIDAY LATE SUMMER BANK HOLIDAY On these bank holidays the townsfolk usually flock into the country and to the sea coast. If the weather is fine many families take a picnic-lunch or tea with them and enjoy their meal in the open. Others will go to a Safari, Wildlife or theme park, all offering family activities and entertainment.
In parks, large or small, visitors are encouraged to take part in various competitions and games. During bank holidays many people will be participating in all these sports, weather permitting, of course.
Bank Holiday is also an occasion for big sports meetings at places like the White City Stadium mainly all kinds of athletics. There are also horse race meetings all over the country, and most traditional of all, there are large fairs. It is at Hampstead Heath you will see the Pearly Kings, those Cockney costers (street traders), who wear suits or frocks with thousands of tiny pearl buttons stitched all over them, also over their caps and hats, in case of their Queens. There is also much boating activity on the Thames.
HalloweenOn October 31st British people celebrate Halloween. It is undoubtedly the most colourful and exciting holiday of the year. Though it is not a public holiday, it is very dear to those who celebrate it, especially to children and teenagers. This day was originally called All Hallow's Eve because it fell on the eve of All Saints' Day. The name was later shortened to Halloween. According to old beliefs, Halloween is the time, when the veil between the living and the dead is partially lifted, and witches, ghosts and other super natural beings are about. Now children celebrate Halloween in unusual costumes and masks. It is a festival of merrymaking, superstitions spells, fortunetelling, traditional games and pranks. Halloween is a time for fun.
Few holidays tell us much of the past as Halloween. Its origins date back to a time, when people believed in devils, witches and ghosts. Many Halloween customs are based on beliefs of the ancient Celts, who lived more than 2,000 years ago in what is now Great Britain, Ireland, and northern France.
Every year the Celts celebrated the Druid festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness. It fell on October 31, the eve of the Druid new year. The date marked the end of summer, or the time when the sun retreated before the powers of darkness and the reign of the Lord of Death began. The Dun god took part in the holiday and received thanks for the year's harvest.
It was believed that evil spirits sometimes played tricks on October 31. They could also do all kinds of damage to property. Some people tried to ward of the witches by painting magic signs on their barns. Others tried to frighten them away by nailing a piece of iron, such as a horseshoe, over the door.
Many fears and superstitions grew up about this day. An old Scotch superstition was that witches - those who had sold their souls to the devil - left in their beds on Halloween night a stick made by magic to look like themselves. Then they would fly up the chime attended by a black cat.
In Ireland, and some other parts of Great Britain, it was believed, that fairies spirited away young wives, whom they returned dazed and amnesic 366 days later.
When Halloween night fell, people in some places dressed up and tried to resemble the souls of the dead. They hoped that the ghosts would leave peacefully before midnight. They carried food to the edge of town or village and left it for the spirits.
In Wales, they believed that the devil appeared in the shape of a pig, a horse, or a dog. On that night, every person marked a stone and put it in a bonfire. If a person's stone was missing the next morning, he or she would die within a year.
Much later, when Christianity came to Great Britain and Ireland, the Church wisely let the people keep their old feast. But it gave it a new association when in the 9th century a festival in honour of all saints (All Hallows) was fixed on November 1. In the 11th century November 2 became All Souls' Day to honour the souls of the dead, particularly those who died during the year.
Christian tradition included the lighting of bonfires and earring blazing torches all around the fields. In some places masses of flaming stay were flung into the air. When these ceremonies were over, everyone returned home to feast on the new crop of apples and nuts, which are the traditional Halloween foods. On that night, people related their experience with strange noises and spooky shadows and played traditional games.
Halloween customs today follow many of the ancient traditions, though their significance has long since disappeared.
A favourite Halloween custom is to make a jack-o'-lantern. Children take out the middle of the pumpkin, cut hole holes for the eyes, nose and mouth in its side and, finally, they put a candle inside the pumpkin to scare their friends. The candle burning inside makes the orange face visible from far away on a dark night - and the pulp makes a delicious pumpkin-pie.
People in England and Ireland once carved out beets, potatoes, and turnips to make jack-o'-lanterns on Halloween. When the Scots and Irish came to the United States, they brought their customs with them. But they began to carve faces on pumpkins because they were more plentiful in autumn than turnips. Nowadays, British carve faces on pumpkins, too.
According to an Irish legend, jack-o'-lanterns were named for a man called Jack who was notorious for his drunkenness and being stingy. One evening at the local pub, the Devil appeared to take his soul. Clever Jack persuaded the Devil to "have one drink together before we go". To pay for his drink the Devil turned himself into a sixpence. Jack immediately put it into his wallet. The Devil couldn't escape from it because it had a catch in the form of a cross. Jack released the Devil only when the latter promised to leave him in peace for another year. Twelve months later, Jack played another practical joke on the Devil, letting him down from a tree only on the promise that he would never purse him again. Finally, Jack's body wore out. He could not enter heaven because he was a miser. He could not enter hell either, because he played jokes on the Devil. Jack was in despair. He begged the Devil for a live coal to light his way out of the dark. He put it into a turnip and, as the story goes, is still wandering around the earth with his lantern.
Halloween is something called Beggars' Night or Trick or Treat night. Some people celebrate Beggars' Night as Irish children did in the 17th century. They dress up as ghosts and witches and go into the streets to beg. And children go from house to house and say: "Trick or treat!", meaning "Give me a treat or I'll play a trick on you". Some groups of "ghosts" chant Beggars' Night rhymes: Trick or treat, Smell our feet. We want something Good to eat.
In big cities Halloween celebrations often include special decorating contests. Young people are invited to soap shop-windows, and they get prizes for the best soap-drawings.
Midsummer's Day, June 24th, is the longest day of the year. On that day you can see a very old custom at Stonohonge, in Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge is on of
Europe's biggest stone circles. A lot of the stones are ten or twelve metres high. It is 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? Many people think that 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 is just a strange old custom.
Londoners celebrate carnivals. And one of them is Europe's biggest street carnival. A lot of people in the Notting Hill area of London come from the West Indies - a group of islands in the Caribbean. And for two days in August, Nutting Hill is the West Indies. There is West Indian food and music in the streets. There is also a big parade and people dance day and night.
One of the most interesting competitions is the university boat race.
Oxford and Cambridge are Britain's two oldest universities. In the nineteenth century, rowing was a popular sport at both of them. In 1829 they agreed to have a race. They raced on the river Thames and the Oxford boat won. That started a tradition. Now, every Spring, the University Boat Race goes from Putney to Mortlake on the Thames. That is 6,7 kilometres. The Cambridge rowers wear light blue shirts and the Oxford rowers wear dark blue. There are eight men in each boat. There is also a "cox". The cox controls the boat. Traditionally coxes are men, but Susan Brown became the first woman cox in 1981. She was the cox for Oxford and they won.
An annual British tradition, which captures the imagination of the whole nation is the London to Brighton Car Rally in which a fleet of ancient cars indulges in a light hearted race from the Capital to the Coast.
When the veteran cars set out on the London - Brighton run each November, they are celebrating one of the great landmarks in the history of motoring in Britain - the abolition of the rule that every "horseless carriage" had to be preceded along the road by a pedestrian. This extremely irksome restriction, imposed by the Locomotives on Highways Act, was withdrawn in 1896, and on November of that year there was a rally of motor-cars on the London - Brighton highway to celebrate the first day of freedom - Emancipation Day, as it has known by motorists ever since.
Emancipation is still on the first Sunday of the month, but nowadays there is an important condition of entry - every car taking part must be at least 60 years old.
The Run is not a race. Entrants are limited to a maximum average speed of 20 miles per hour. The great thing is not speed but quality of performance, and the dedicated enthusiasts have a conversation all their own.
The Highland Games - this sporting tradition is Scottish. In the Highlands (the mountains of Scotland) families, or "clans", started the Games hundreds of years ago. Some of the sports are the Games are international: the high jump and the long jump, for example. But other sports happen only at the Highland Games. One is tossing the caber. "Tossing" means throwing, and a "caber" is a long, heavy piece of wood. In tossing the caber you lift the caber (it can be five or six metres tall). Then you throw it in front of you.
At the Highland Games a lot of men wear kilts. These are traditional Scottish skirts for men. But they are not all the same. Each clan has a different "tartan". That is the name for the pattern on the kilt. So at the Highland Games there are traditional sports and traditional instrument - the bagpipes. The bagpipes are very loud. They say Scots soldier played them before a battle. The noise frightened the soldiers on other side.
The world's most famous tennis tournament is Wimbledon. It started at a small club in south London in the nineteenth century. Now a lot of the nineteenth century traditions have changed. For example, the women players don't have to wear long skirts. And the men players do not have to wear long trousers. But other traditions have not changed at Wimbledon. The courts are still grass, and visitors still eat strawberries and cream. The language of tennis has not changed either.
There are some British traditions and customs concerning their private life. The British are considered to be the world's greatest tea drinkers. And so tea is Britain's favourite drink. The English know how to make tea and what it does for you. In England people say jokingly: The test of good tea is simple. If a spoon stands up in it, then it is strong enough; if the spoon starts to wobble, it is a feeble makeshift'.
Every country has its drinking habits, some of which are general and obvious, others most peculiar. Most countries also have a national drink. In England the national is beer, and the pub "pub", where people talk, eat, drink, meet their friends and relax.
The word "pub" is short for "public house". Pubs sell beer. (British beer is always warm). An important custom in pubs is "buying a round". In a group, one person buys all the others a drink. This is a "round". Then one by one all the people buy rounds, too. If they are with friends, British people sometimes lift their glasses before they drink and say: "Cheers". This means "Good luck".
In the pubs in south-west England there is another traditional drink-scrumpy.
Pub names often have a long tradition. Some come from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Every pub has a name and every pub has a sign above its door. The sign shows a picture of the pub's name.
And as you know, the British talk about the weather a lot. They talk about the weather because it changes so often. Wind, rain, sun, cloud, snow - they can all happen in a British winter - or a British summer.
Hundreds of years ago, soldiers began this custom. They shook hands to show that they did not have a sword. Now, shaking hands is a custom in most countries.
Frenchman shake hands every time they meet, and kiss each other on both cheeks as a ceremonial salute, like the Russians, while Englishmen shake hands only when they are introduced, or after a long absence.
Victorian England made nearly as many rules about hand shaking as the Chinese did about bowing. A man could not offer his hand first a lady; young ladies did not shake men's hands at all unless they were old friends; married ladies could offer their hands in a room, but not in public, where they would bow slightly.
GUY FAWKES NIGHT (BONFIRE NIGHT) - NOVEMBER 5 Guy Fawkes Night is one of the most popular festivals in Great Britain. It commemorates the discovery of the so-called Gunpowder Plot, and is widely celebrated throughout the country.
Gunpowder Plot. Conspiracy to destroy the English Houses of Parliament and King James I when the latter opened Parliament on Nov. 5,1605, Engineered by a group of Roman Catholics as a protest against anti-Papist measures. On November 4 a search was made of the parliament vaults, and the gunpowder was found, together with Guy Fawkes (1570-1606). Fawkes had been commissioned to set off the explosion. Arrested and tortured he revealed the names of the conspirators, some of whom were killed resisting arrest. Fawkes was hanged. Detection of the plot led to increased repression of English Roman Catholics. The Plot is still commemorated by an official ceremonial search of the vaults before the annual opening of Parliament, also by the burning of Fawkes's effigy and the explosion of fireworks every Nov.
Guy Fawkes must be one of the most popular villains in history. In the last century, many of these celebrations were wild indeed, with home-made fireworks, blazing barrels of tar and huge bonfires in the streets. There is an extremely well-organized celebration at Winchester, Hampshire. College students and many other organizations in the city prepare elaborate guys, for which prizes are awarded.
When November 5th comes, many people feel that they should give their dog a sedative, for some dogs get very nervous when they hear loud bangs, and the evening of Guy Fawkes Day is sure to be noisy if there are children living in the neighbourhood in England.
SEARCHING THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT The memory of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is preserved by many cheerful customs in various parts of Great Britain, and by one dignified ceremony that takes place in London before the Opening of Parliament. This is the searching by a detachment of Yeomen of the Guard of the cellars under the Palace of Westminster, either on the evening before the Opening or, more usually, on the morning of the day itself The Yeomen, in their scarlet and gold uniforms, come from the Tower of London to the Princess Chamber in the House of Lords and there, in the presence of a number of the Palace officials, they are given old candle- lanterns for use during the ceremony. As soon as the order to search has been received, they set out on a prolonged tour of the basements, vaults, and cellars below the building. Carrying their lighted lanterns in their hafids, and firmly ignoring the existence of the very efficient electric lighting, they search every cranny and crevice, every corner and conceivable hiding-place, to satisfy themselves that no gunpowder barrels, bombs, or infernal machines have been anywhere concealed with intent to blow up Sovereign, Lords, and Commons. When they have proved by personal and most careful inspection that all is well, a message is sent to the Queen, the Yeomen are given some well earned refreshment and return whence they came, and Parliament is then free to assemble without fear of disaster.
REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY After World War I Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, commemorating the fallen, was observed on 11 November, also called "Poppy Day" from the artificial poppies (recalling the poppies of Flanders fields). From 1945-1956 Remembrance Sunday was observed instead on the first or second Sunday of November (presumably whichever was nearest to 11th), commemorating the fallen of World War I and II. In 1956 it was fixed on the second Sunday in November.
Armistice Day, 11th November. BENEATH THIS STONE RESTS THE BODY OF A BRITISH WARRIOR UNKNOWN BY NAME OR RANK THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR'S GRAVE IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY BROUGHT FROM FRANCE TO LIE AMONG THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS OF THE LAND AND BURIED HERE ON ARMISTICE DAY 11 NOV: 1920, IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS MAJESTY KING GEORGE V HIS MINISTERS OF STATE THE CHIEFS OF HIS FORCES AND A VAST CONCOURSE OF THE NATION THUS ARE COMMEMORATED THE MANY MULTITUDES WHO DURING THE GREAT WAR OF 1914-1918 GAVE THE MOST THAT MAN CAN GIVE LIFE ITSELF FOR GOD FOR KING AND COUNTRY FOR LOVED ONES HOME AND EMPIRE FOR THE SACRED CAUSE OF JUSTICE AND THE FREEDOM OF THE WORLDTHEY BURIED HIM AMONG THE KINGS BECAUSE HE HAD DONE GOOD TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD HIS HOUSE
REMEMBRANCE DAY (POPPY DAY) Remembrance Day is observed throughout Britain. On that day special services are held in the churches and wreaths are laid at war memorials throughout the country and at London's Cenotaph, where a great number of people gather to observe the two-minute silence and to perform the annual Remembrance Day ceremony. The silence begins at the first stroke of Big Ben booming 11 o'clock, and is broken only by the crash of distant artillery and perhaps by the murmur of a passing jet. When the two-minute silence is over, members of the Royal Family or their representatives and political leaders come forward to lay wreaths at the foot of the Cenotaph. Then comes the march past the memorial of ex-servicemen and women, followed by an endless line of ordinary citizens who have come here with their personal wreaths and their sad memories.
On that day artificial poppies, a symbol of mourning, are traditionally sold in the streets everywhere, and people wear them in their button-holes. The money collected in this way is later used to help the men who had been crippled during the war and their dependants.
CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS TIME
Christmas, or a similar festival, has been celebrated from the earliest days of recorded history.
Christmas is an annual festival, observed on December 25, in commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Its observance as a Christian festival dates from the 4th century, when it gradually superseded Epyphany (January 6, still kept as Christmas in the Armenian Church).
CHRISTMAS EVE On Christmas Eve everything is rush and bustle. Offices and public buildings close at one o'clock, but the shops stay open late.
In the homes there is a great air of expectation. The children are decorating the tree with tinsel. The house is decorated with holly and a bunch of mistletoe under which the boys kiss the girls. Christmas cards - with the words A Merry Christmas to You or Wishing You a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year, or With the Compliments of the Season, etc. - are arranged on mantlepieces, shelves, tables, and sometimes attached to ribbon and hung round the walls. The Christmas bird, nowadays usually a turkey, is being prepared and stuffed, the pudding is inspected and the cake is got out of its tin and iced.
CHRISTMAS DAY (25th DECEMBERMore people go to Church on Christmas Day than at any other time.
On returning from Church - or after a late breakfast - mother disappears into the kitchen to put the turkey in the oven, which has been prepared the day before, and the pudding on to boil, while the family gather round the Tree. The Tree is usually in a window and at night one can walk down streets and see these lights twinkling in the windows. When mother is ready, the great moment comes - the opening of the presents. Everyone has tried to keep their gifts a secret and if you know what you're getting you must show delight and gratitude - even for the sixth tie or the twentieth bar of soap! The parcels have been tied on the Tree or laid round it and each takes a turn at opening one. Everyone gets something - the dog a new collar - the cat a tin of sardines.
After the excitement has died down you have the long wait for the food. Some people go for walks to strengthen their appetite either taking the children with them or leaving them at home. The men may either stay at home or go to the pub for a Christmas drink with their friends.
The meal is really traditional - stuffed turkey, bread sauce, boiled ham, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts to be followed by plum pudding, mince pies (perhaps jelly for the children), brandy butter and either tea or coffee.
After all that one sits down and digests and watches television. Later one has tea - that is tea and Christmas cake.
People travel from all parts of the country to be at home for Christmas.
CHRISTMAS GIFTS The giving of presents at Christmas-time has a long pre-Christian ancestry. Before Christianity was known in the world, gifts of various kinds used to be exchanged at some of the pagan religious festivals of midwinter.
In England, Father Christmas was certainly known as far back as the fifteenth century, for he is named in a carol of that period beginning "Hail, Father Christmas, hail to thee!" In the modern version of his legend, Father Christmas has become a very old but never-ageing man, dressed in red robes and furs, who comes from the Far North in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, and deposits his gifts by night in the houses, unseen and unheard.
CHRISTMAS CARDS Christmas cards are now so essential a part of the Christmas festivities that they can hardly be omitted from any list of established customs. Nevertheless, they are little more than a hundred years old, and were unknown before Victorian times. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was a pleasant universal, custom to send complimentary verses, often of the sender's own composition, to particular friends at Christmas, or on other great occasions. For this purpose, specially prepared sheets of paper were frequently used.
More than one person has claimed the honour of inventing the new form of greeting. Probably, the strongest claim to be the inventor is that of J. C. Horsley. In 1846, a pictorial card designed by him in 1843 was published by Summerly's Home Treasury Office, and about a thousand copies were sold. By about 1870, the Christmas card had become really popular in England.
THE CHRISTMAS ROBIN The origin of the robin as a Christmas bird dates back not more than 100 years, and is rather mundane. It is all the fault of the Post Office.
In the middle of the last century the Post Office dressed its postmen in bright red coats of a colour to match the official red of the pillar boxes. Because of this striking uniform, the postmen themselves came to be known colloquially as "redbreasts".
So it was inevitable, when the Christmas card first came into general favour around 1860, that robins should figure prominently in its decoration. Almost all the early cards showed a cheerful robin redbreast, often bringing the welcome Christmas mail in its beak, or sometimes actually knocking on the door, just like the postman himself.
The scarlet-clad postmen are now forgotten, and their present-day successors wear a sober bluish-grey, but they still carry vast loads of robin-adorned cards each festive season.
London has preserved its old ceremonies and traditions to a greater extent than any other city in England.
CHANGING THE GUARD One of the most impressive and popular displays of royal pageantry is hanging the Guard, which takes place at Buckingham Palace every day, including Sunday, at 11.30.
The troops who take part are selected from the five regiments of Foot Guards . Their numbers are dependent on whether the Queen is in residence or not.
The men of the duty guard march from either Wellington or Chelsea Barracks to Buckingham Palace with a band, which during the actual ceremony plays in the forecourt of the Palace.
The guard to be relieved forms at the southern end of the forecourt under the command of the Captain of the Queen's Guard. They are drawn up into two ranks. Before they are stood at ease, the colour is paraded by the ensign on duty. Each regiment has two colours - a royal one and a regimental one. The royal colour can be seen only when the Queen is at home. Sometimes the colour is decorated with a laurel wreath, signifying the anniversary of a battle in which the regiment was engaged.
The new guard enters the forecourt by the north gate. As it approaches, the old guard is called to attention. The new guard is then halted to be formed into files before it advances to position at a slow march. While this is taking place, the band plays. Later the band leads the old guard back to their barracks.
The Brigade of Guards serves as a personal body-guard to the Sovereign.
When the Queen is in residence at Buckingham Palace, there is a guard of four sentries. Only two are on duty when she is away from London.
MOUNTING THE GUARD The colourful spectacle of Mounting the Guard, at the Horse Guards, in Whitehall, always attracts London sightseers.
It can be seen at 11 a. m. every weekday and at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
The guard is provided by a detachment of the Household Cavalry and involves units of the Royal Horse Guards, known as the "Blues", and the Life Guards, sometimes referred to as "The Tins".
The Life Guards wear scarlet uniforms and white metal helmets with white horsehair plumes and have white sheepskin saddles. The Royal Horse Guards wear deep-blue tunics and white metal helmets with red horsehair plumes and have black sheepskin saddles.
Both wear steel cuirasses - body armour that reaches down to the waist and consists of a breastplate and a back-plate buckled or otherwise fastened together. The uniforms are completed with buckskin breeches, black jackboots and spurs.
The actual ceremony is dependent on whether or not the Queen is in residence in London. If she is, there is more to see. On these occasions the ceremony is performed by what has become known as the "long guard". The guard is commanded by an officer in charge of sixteen troopers, a corporal of horse, a corporal major, and a trumpeter. The trumpeter rides a grey horse; the others ride black chargers. A standard is carried, except when the Queen is not in London, when, also, there is no officer in command.
With the arrival of the new guard, the trumpeter sounds a call. The two officers salute and then stand their horses side by side while the guard is changed. The ceremony lasts for just over fifteen minutes, and ends with the old guard returning to its barracks.
THE CEREMONY OF THE KEYEvery night at 9.53 p.m. the Chief Warder of the Yeomen Warders 28 (Beefeaters) of the Tower of London lights a candle lantern and then makes his way towards the Bloody Tower. In the Archway his Escort await his arrival. The Chief Warder, carrying the keys, then moves off with his Escort to the West Gate, which he locks, while the Escort "present arms". Then the Middle and Byward Towers are locked.
The party then return to the Bloody Tower Archway, and there they are halted by the challenge of the sentry. "Halt!" he commands. "Who goes there?" The Chief Warder answers, "The keys." The sentry demands, "Whose keys?" "Queen Elizabeth's keys," replies the Chief Warder. "Advance, Queen Elizabeth's keys; all's well," commands the sentry.
Having received permission to proceed through the Archway, the party then form up facing the Main Guard of the Tower. The order is given by the officer-in-charge to "Present Arms". The Chief Warder doffs his Tudor-style bonnet and cries, "God preserve Queen Elizabeth." "Amen," answer the Guard and Escort.
At 10 p.m. the bugler sounds the "Last Post". The Chief Warder proceeds to the Queen's House, where the keys are given into the custody of the Resident Governor and Major.
The Ceremony of the Keys dates back 700 years and has taken place every night during that period, even during the blitz of London in the last war.
THE SOVEREIGN'S ENTRY INTO THE CITY OF LONDONWhenever the Sovereign wishes to enter the City of London on state occasions, he or she is met by the Lord Mayor at the site of Temple Bar, which marks the City boundary. First the Sword and Mace are reversed; then the Lord Mayor surrenders the City's Pearl Sword as a symbol of the Sovereign's overriding authority.
The City Sword is held pointing downwards. The Sovereign then touches its hilt and returns it immediately. On receiving it back, the Lord Mayor bears it before the Sovereign, after which the royal party is allowed entry.
This custom dates back to 1588, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's drive to Old St.Paul's to give thanks for the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
ELECTING LONDON'S LORD MAJOR One of the most important functions of the City's eighty-four Livery Companies is the election of London's Lord Mayor at the Guildhall at 12 noon on Michaelmas Day (September 29th). The public are admitted to the ceremony. It provides one of the many impressive and colourful spectacles for which London is famed. The reigning Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, carrying posies, walk in procession to the Guildhall and take their places on the dais, which is strewn with sweet-smelling herbs. The Recorder announces that the representatives of the Livery
Companies have been called together to select two , Aldermen for the office of Lord Mayor of London. From the selected two, the Court of Aldermen will choose one. The Mayor, Aldermen and other senior officials then withdraw, and the Livery select their two nominations. Usually the choice is unanimous, and the Liverymen all hold up their hands and shout "All". The Sergeant-at-Arms takes the mace from the table and, accompanied by the Sheriffs , takes the two names to the Court of Aldermen, who then proceed to select the Mayor Elect. The bells of the City ring out as the Mayor and the Mayor Elect leave the Guildhall in the state coach for the Mansion House.
THE LORD MAYOR'S SHOW The splendid civic event known as the Lord Mayor's Show is watched by many thousands of people. Its origin dates back more than six hundred years. The Lord Mayor Elect is driven in state to the Royal Courts of Justice , where he takes the oath before the Lord Chief Justice and Judges of the Queen's Bench to perform his duties faithfully.
This final declaration was formerly made before the Barons of the Exchequer and originated in 1230 during the reign of Henry III.
Setting out from the Guildhall at about 11.30 a. m., the newly-elected Lord Mayor travels in a gilded coach which dates from the mid-eighteenth century.
Forming his body-guard is the company of Pikemen and Musketeers.
After the oath has been taken, the entire procession returns by way of the Embankment to the original point of departure.
During the evening there takes place at Guildhall the traditional Banquet, according to a custom going back two hundred and fifty years. The Banquet is attended by many of the most prominent people in the country, and is usually televised - at least in part. The Prime Minister delivers a major political speech, and the toast of the hosts on behalf of the guests is proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The cost of the Show and Banquet is met by the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs, and one can imagine how high it is. In the late 1600s the cost of the Banquet is reputed to have amounted to nearly $700. It is interesting to note that the Lord Mayor today receives $l5,000 from the City's cash for his term in office. From this amount all his expenses must be met.
THE STATE OPENING OF PARLIAMENT Undoubtedly one of the most colourful and spectacular pageants that take place in London is that which surrounds the State Opening of Parliament.
Her Majesty the Queen, as the reigning monarch, travels in the resplendent Irish State Coach from her residence at Buckingham palace to the palace of Westminster, where she delivers her speech from the Throne of the House of Lords.
Her arrival at Victoria Tower is greeted by a salute fired by the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, wearing full-dress uniform.
At the ancient Palace of Westminster Her Majesty is received by the Great Officers of State - the two hereditary officers, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, and three non-hereditary Great Officers, the Lord High Chancellor, the Lord Privy Seal, and the Lord President of the Council.
Accompanying Her Majesty would be H.R.H. the prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and other members of the Royal Family and Household such as the private Secretary, the Master of the Horse and the Keeper of the Privy Purse.
The Queen then enters the Robing Room, later to emerge wearing her royal robes and crown. Meanwhile the Great Officers of State, the Pursuivants, the Heralds, and others, all magnificently apparalled, take up their positions in the Royal Gallery.
The House, rich in colour with the splendid robes and costumes worn by peers, judges, bishops, ambassadors and peeresses, now await the appearance of Her Majesty.
As she emerges from the Robing Room, the hush is broken by the sound of trumpets as the Garter King of Arms signals to the Heralds, by the raising of his sceptre, the approach of the Queen's procession into the House of Lords.
The Queen then moves slowly towards the steps she will ascend to the Throne. Seated upon it, she commands Black Rod (one of the five officers of the Order of the Garter) to summon the Speaker and Members of the House of Commons.
The Lord Chancellor, kneeling before her, then hands her the Gracious Speech, which contains the Government's programme of legislation for the new session.
After the Speech, the procession moves slowly out of the chamber.