Important dates in the British calendarWhilst the official Life in the UK test study materials include many of the significant dates and events in the British calendar there are many more events and festivals that are not listed. We have compiled a list of some of these to give you an idea of a normal year for British citizens.
Despite its best efforts, Life in the UK: A journey to citizenship, published by the Home Office, can’t cover every aspect of life in the United Kingdom. Whilst the official study materials include a great deal of important information there are lots of dates and events that are part of British culture which it doesn’t include.
Please note that this information is not tested on in the Life in the UK test or British citizenship application, but is instead provided to help you build a greater understanding of normal life in the United Kingdom.
Burns Night is a celebration of the life of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns, and is held on the anniversary of his birthday, 25th January. The celebration normally involves a meal, including haggis, whiskey and recitation of Burns’ poetry.
Formal dinners and celebrations follow a standard format, including speeches, dedications and toasts and it is closed with all the guests singing Auld Lang Syne.
The Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an annual event held on the Spring bank holiday at Cooper’s Hill, near Gloucester in the Cotswolds. At this event a round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down a hill and people race after it. Whilst the idea is that competitors catch the cheese, as it can reach speeds of up to 70mph, the first person to cross the line at the bottom of the hill is declared the winner.
The event was cancelled in 2010 over health and safety fears, but despite this around 500 people still showed up to hold unofficial races. No major injuries were reported, and it is hoped the race will be held again in 2011.
Chelsea Flower Show
This event, run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), is a world-famous gardening event which takes place over 5 days in May. It was first held in 1862 at the RHS garden in Kensington, but today is held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
It has 157,000 visitors a year, and this number is limited by the capacity of the gardens, and not the demand for tickets! All tickets must be purchased in advance for this event.
Crufts is a 4 day international dog show held in March. The show consists of many competitions of agility and obedience, however the main event is the Best in Show competition. This is the award for the dog which has the best health and condition, coat, character, temperament, movement and is closest to the Kennel Club Breed Standard
Along with Christmas, Easter is one of the most important Christian feasts. It is a moveable feast and takes place over a weekend in Spring, between 22nd March and 25th April.
Easter remembers the death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, and celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Easter is celebrated in Britain today with the giving of chocolate eggs. These eggs are said to be hidden by the Easter Bunny for children to find on Easter morning.
The Edinburgh Festival is actually several arts and cultural festivals that run simultaneously in the city of Edinburgh, in Scotland. The original and ‘official’ festival at the heart of it all is the Edinburgh International Festival, which started in 1947 and consists of classical and contemporary theatre, opera, music, dance and visual arts.
However, the largest of all the festivals is now the Edinburgh Fringe; this is normally what people refer to when they talk about the Edinburgh Festival. This also started in 1947 as a small scale alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival but has grown over time to it’s current size. It includes theatre, comedy, music, musicals, dance and children’s shows, but is perhaps most famous for the comedy.
Glastonbury is the largest open-air music and performing arts festival in the world, and takes place on the last weekend of June in Somerset. It is famous for its music, but also features dance, comedy, theatre, cabaret and many other arts.
It is an incredibly popular event, with a capacity of around 130,000 people, and tickets normally sell out very quickly. The site is around 1,200 acres in size, and the perimeter fence is about 8 1/2 miles long.
Henley Royal Regatta
The Henley Royal Regatta is a rowing event held every year on the Thames, by the town of Henley-on-Thames in England. It lasts for five days and takes pace over the first weekend of July and consists of head-to-head knock out competitions over one mile.
It started in the 1830’s as an amateur event and today is an international event that remains true to this standard as it is open to established amateur rowing clubs.
The London Marathon takes place in Spring and has been held every year since 1981. It is one of the five top marathons in the world that make up the World Marathon Majors competition and is hotly contested every year as a result. The race starts at 3 separate points around the city and finishes, 26 miles later, in The Mall, alongside St James’s Palace.
The marathon is also a major charity event, however, and holds the world record as the largest annual fund raising event in the world. Around 75% of the people who run the marathon raise money for charity by doing so and there is a strong tradition to do the race in fancy dress as part of this.
Lord Mayor’s Show
This annual event dates back to 1535 and takes place on the second Saturday of November. The event takes place the day after the new Lord Mayor of the City of London is appointed - The Lord Mayor should not be confused with the Mayor of London, who is the elected head of the Greater London Authority.
The event is a parade from the Guildhall in the City of London to the Royal Courts of Justice, where the Lord Mayor then swears his allegiance to the Crown. The procession is made of a combination of pageantry, carnival and floats and takes several hours. Curiously, the procession is over three miles long, which is longer than the route it follows. This means that the head of the procession reaches the end of the route before the Lord Mayor even departs!
Midsummer’s Night is the summer solstice and marks the official start of summer. Recent years have seen celebrations and ceremonies take place at Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
Notting Hill Carnival
The Notting Hill Carnival referred to in the official Home Office study materials is a 2 day event that takes place over the August bank holiday weekend on the streets of Notting Hill, London. It has been running in Notting Hill since 1964 and is attended by up to one million people every year. It started as a response to increasingly tense race relations at the time, and has now developed into a vibrant and colourful celebration of London’s multi-culturalism.
Orange walks and parades
The Orange Order walks, or parades, are held annually by members of the Orange Order, predominantly in Northern Ireland. They typically build up to celebrations on the 12th July to mark the victory os William of Orange over King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The walks are normally accompanied by a marching band and participants wear dark suits and orange collarettes, or sashes. Historically the parades have faced opposition, especially during the Troubles as Catholic nationalists found the celebration offensive. Recently the parades have been much less controversial, which is an indication of the developing peace and stability in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The Proms are officially known as the ‘BBC Proms’, or the ‘Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC’ and are an eight week season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and events. They take place every year and the majority of concerts take place in the Royal Albert Hall.
The most famous part of the season is the ‘last night of the proms’, which usually takes place on the second saturday in September. The last night of the proms features patriotic music of the United Kingdom, including Elgar’s ‘Pomp & Circumstance’, ‘Rule Brittania’ and ‘Jerusalem’. It is also traditional for the audience (known as ‘Prommers’) to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at the end of the concert, although this is not in the programme.
Queen’s official birthday
The birthday of the Queen is officially celebrated in the united Kingdom on a Saturday in June - this is the official celebration, as her actual birthday is the 21st April. This is marked by the trooping of the colour, a military parade held by regiments of the British armed forces. The date varies between Commonwealth countries, as does the form of the celebration.
The Queen also releases a list of birthday honours on this date, recognising the achievements or service of individuals.
Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day, and is the last day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. It is a moveable feast as the date it falls on depends on Easter, but it varies between 3rd February and 9th March.
It is traditional to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday as a feast before Lent, the period of fasting before Easter. This is because their ingredients such as sugar, fat and eggs were traditionally restricted during Lent.
State opening of Parliament
The annual session Parliament of the UK normally opens in November or December - or for the first sitting of parliament after a general election - with the Queen’s speech which outlines the Government’s agenda for the coming year. This speech is written by the Cabinet and not the Queen. This event is attended by the Queen, all 650 of the UK’s MPs and Her Majesty’s Judges, to represent the governance of the UK and the separation of powers.