. Traditions and holidays of Great Britain

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

years 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 persons 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 carring

blazing torches all around the fields. In some places masses of flaming

staw 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-j-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


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 couldnt 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, Jacks

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 Ill 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.

In old times, practical jokes were even more elaborate. It was quite

normal to steal gates, block house doors, and cover chimneys with turf so

that smoke could not escape. Blame for resulting chaos was naturally placed

on the spirits.

At Halloween parties the guests wear every kind of costume. Some

people dress up like supernatural creatures, other prefers historical or

political figures. You can also meet pirates, princesses, Draculas,

Cinderellas, or even Frankensteins monsters at a Halloween festival.

At Halloween parties children play traditional games. Many games date

back to the harvest festivals of very ancient times. One of the most

popular is called bobbing for apples. One child at a time has to get apples

from a tub of water without using hands. But how to do this? By sinking his

or her face into the water and biting the apple!

Another game is pin-the-tail-on-the donkey. One child is blind folded

and spun slowly so that he or she will become dizzy. Then the child must

find a paper donkey haging on the wall and try to pin a tail onto the back.

And no Halloween party is complete without at least one scary story.

It helps too create an air of mystery.

Certain fortunetelling methods began in Europe hundreds of years ago

and became an important part of Halloween. For example, such object as a

coin, a ring, and a thimble were baked into a cake or other food. It was

believed that the person who found the coin in the cake would become

wealthy. The one who found the ring would marry soon, but the person who

got the thimble would never get married.

Unfortunately now most people do not believe in evil spirits. They

know that evil spirits do not break steps, spill garbage or pull down

fences. If property is damaged, they blame naughty boys and girls. Today,

Halloween is still a bad night for the police

March 1st is a very important day for Welsh people. Its St. Davids

Day. Hes the patron or national saint of Wales. On March 1st, the Welsh

celebrate St. Davids Day and wear daffodils in the buttonholes of their

coats or jackets.

On February 14th its Saint Valentines Day in Britain. It is not a

national holiday. Banks and offices do not close, but it is a happy little

festival in honour of St. Valentine. On this day, people send Valentine

cards to their husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends. You can also

send a card to a person you do not know. But traditionally you must never

write your name on it. Some British newspapers have got a page for

Valentines Day messages on February 14th.

This lovely day is widely celebrated among people of all ages by the

exchanging of valentines.

Saint Valentine was a martyr but this feast goes back to pagan times

and the Roman feast of Lupercalia. The names of young unmarried girls were

put into a vase. The young men each picked a name, and discovered the

identity of their brides.

This custom came to Britain when the Romans invaded it. But the church

moved the festival to the nearest Christian saints day: this was Saint

Valentines Day.

Midsummers 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 on of Europes 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 Europes 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.

April 1st is April Fools Day in Britain. This is a very old tradition

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 Fools Day is different. It is a day for jokes and tricks.

One of the most interesting competitions is the university boat race.

Oxford and Cambridge are Britains 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 lighthearted 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


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 worlds 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

dont 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 worlds greatest tea drinkers.

And so tea is Britains 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-


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 pubs 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


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 mens 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.

I have chosen the topic British customs traditions because I enjoy

learning the English language and wanted to know more about British ways of

life and traditions. Working on this topic I have to conclusion that

British people are very conservative. They are proud pf their traditions

and carefully keep them up. It was interesting to know that foreigners

coming to England are stuck at once by quite a number of customs and


So I think of Britain as a place a lot of different types of people

who observe their traditions.


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