Crackers are also usual at Christmas dinner. These came to Britain from China in the nineteenth century. Two people pull a cracker. Usually there is a small toy in the middle. Often there is a joke on a piece of paper, too. Most of the jokes in Christmas crackers are not very good. Here is on example:
Customer: Waiter, there's a frog in my soup.
Waiter: Yes, sir, the fly's on holidays.
A pantomime is a traditional English entertainment at Christmas. It is meant for children, but adults enjoy is just as much. It is a very old form of entertainment, and can be traced back to 16th century Italian comedies. There have been a lot of changes over the years. Singing and dancing and all kinds of jokes have been added; but the stories that are told are still fairy tales, with a hero, a heroine, and a villain.
In every pantomime there are always three main characters. These are the "principal boy", the "principal girl", and the "dame". Pantomimes are changing all the time. Every year, someone has a new idea to make them more exciting or more up-to-date.
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.
Traditionally Boxing Day Hunts is a day for foxhunting. The huntsmen and huntswomen ride horses. They use dogs, too. The dogs (fox hounds) follow the smell of the fox. Then the huntsmen and huntswomen follow the hounds. Before a Boxing Day hunt, the huntsmen and huntswomen drink not wine. But the tradition of the December 26th hunt is changing. Now, some people want to stop Boxing Day Hunts (and other hunts, too). They don't like foxhunting. For them it's not a sport – it is cruel.
In England people celebrate the New Year. But it is not as widely or as enthusiastically observed as Christmas. Some people ignore it completely and go to bed at the same time as usual on New Year's Eve. Many others, however, do celebrate it in one way or another, the type of celebration varying very much according to the local custom, family tradition and personal taste.
The most common type of celebration is a New Year party, either a family party or one arranged by a group of young people. And another popular way of celebrating the New Year is to go to a New Year's dance.
The most famous celebration is in London round the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus where crowds gather and sing and welcome the New Year. In Trafalgar Square there is also a big crowd and someone usually falls into the fountain.
Every Year the people of 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 the New Year and Christmas. Thousands of people come to look at 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 year", or "I'll clean, my shoes every day". But there is a problem. Most people forget their New Year Resolutions on January 2nd.
But New Year's Eve is a more important festival in Scotland then it is in England, and it even has a special name. It is not clear where the 'Hogmanay' comes from, but it is connected with the provision of food and drink for all visitors to your home on 31st December.
There is a Scottish song that is sung all over the world at midnight on New Year's Eve. It was written by Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet, and you may find some of the traditional words a bit difficult to understand, but that's the way it's always sung – even by English people!
It was believed that the first person to visit one's house on New Year's Day could bring good or bad luck. Therefore, people tried to arrange for the person of their own choice to be standing outside their houses ready to be let in the moment midnight had come.
Usually a dark-complexioned man was chosen, and never a woman, for she would bring bad luck. The first footer was required to carry three articles: a piece of coal to wish warmth, a piece of bread to wish food, and a silver coin to wish wealth. In some parts of northern England this pleasing custom is still observed. So this interesting tradition called "First Footing".
On Bank holiday the townsfolk usually flock into the country and to the coast. If the weather is fine many families take a picnic – lunch or tea with them and enjoy their meal in the open. Seaside towns near London, such as Southend, are invaded by thousands of trippers who come in cars and coaches, trains and bicycles. Great amusement parks like Southend Kursoal do a roaring trade with their scenic railways, shooting galleries, water-shoots, Crazy houses and so on. Trippers will wear comic paper hats with slogans, and they will eat and drink the weirdest mixture of stuff you can imagine, sea food like cockles, mussels, whelks, fish and chips, candy floss, tea, fizzy drinks, everything you can imagine.
Bank holiday is also an occasion for big sports meeting 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 with swings, roundabouts, a Punch and Judy show, hoop-la stalls and every kind of side-show including, in recent, bingo. There is also much boating activity on the Thames.
Although the Christian religion gave the world Easter as we know it today, the celebration owes its name and many of its customs and symbols to a pagan festival called Eostre. Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of springtime and sunrise, got her name from the world east, where the sunrises. Every spring northern European peoples celebrated the festival of Eostre to honour the awakening of new life in nature. Christians related the rising of the sun to the resurrection of Jesus and their own spiritual rebirth.
Many modern Easter symbols come from pagan time. The egg, for instance, was a fertility symbol long before the Christian era. The ancient Persians, Greeks and Chinese exchanged eggs at their sping festivals. In Christian times the egg took on a new meaning symbolizing the tomb from which Christ rose. The ancient custom of dyeing eggs at Easter time is still very popular.
The Easter bunny also originated in pre-Christian fertility lore. The rabbit was the most fertile animal our ances tors knew, so they selected it as a symbol of new life. Today, children enjoy eating candy bunnies and listening to stories about the Easter bunny, who supposedly brings Easter eggs in a fancy basket.
Also there is a spectacular parade on Easter. It is a truly spectacular Easter Parade in Battersea Park. It is sponsored by the London Tourist Board and is usually planned around a central theme related to the history and attractions of London. The great procession, or parade, begins at 3 p.m. but it is advisable to find a vantage-point well before that hour.
On 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 dateback 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.