Category Archives: New Year Celebrations

A Very British New Year is with us

Well – it’s Tuesday 3rd January 2017 here in Great Britain and England & Wales are back at work after the joys of the traditional New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations and the additional Bank Holiday/Day off yesterday, Monday.  Our Scottish counterparts also have today off!

So, what is a British Bank Holiday?

It is a public holiday format that has been recognised as such in their present form since the ‘Bank Holiday Act’ of 1871. The ‘Bank Holiday’ term comes from times past when banks were shut on certain days and no trading could take place.  Although the Banks closed, based on the 1871 Act, there was, in fact, no automatic right to take time off on those days.  However, the majority of the British working population was – and still is granted – time off work or extra pay for working on these days, depending on their individual contracts.

So, how has this all come into place one might ask?   Following their foundations began in 1694 Britain’s Banks had been privately owned by stockholders and, in each year, would observe over 30 ‘Saints’ Days and religious festivals as holidays.
In 1834 that number was reduced to four: – 1st May [May Day]; 1st November [All Saints’ Day]; Good Friday and Christmas Day.
It was in 1871 that the first legislation relating to these ‘Bank’ holidays was passed when the Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holiday Act.
That specified that under the Act ‘no person was compelled to make any payment or to do any act upon a bank holiday which he would not be compelled to do or make on Christmas Day or Good Friday, and the making of a payment or the doing of an act on the following day was equivalent to doing it on the holiday’.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland these days were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the First Monday in August and St. Stephen’s Day {Boxing Day}.  The 1871 Act listed just these four specific days and did not include Good Friday and Christmas Day as bank holidays in England, Wales, or Ireland because they were already recognised as common law holidays: they had been customary holidays since before records began.

The English, Welsh and Northern Ireland people were so thankful that some called the first Bank Holidays St Lubbock’s Days for a while.

Scotland was treated differently because of its separate traditions – the recent New Year’s Day celebrations are the perfect example. The other ‘special’ Scottish days are Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August and Christmas Day.

By the time you read this most of you will be back at work – but don’t fret.
Good Friday/Easter Monday is 14th/17th April; the Spring holidays are 1st and 29th May;
the Summer Sunday ‘day off’ is on 28th August with
Christmas and Boxing/St Stephen’s Day on 25th /26th December.

In the meantime – have a great year

It is New Year’s Eve – and things happen

Tomorrow is a New Year; new work; new challenges – and long standing beliefs. These beliefs go back to happenings long ago – but were they ‘real happeningsor are they just stories?  No-one knows for certain – but while there is doubt there is risk so when in doubt….. – now that’s up to you!  The decision is up to you – and this is one such situation.

Walk along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on this night and you’ll come across the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. This fishing community, 16 miles south of Aberdeen, is ‘home’ to one of the unique Hogmanay festivals in Scotland – and argued by many as the best.

For over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street has been lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads. It looks dangerous but the fireballs are very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours!  Now, however, they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, march down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

As you would expect, fireball-swinging is an energetic activity. One regular participant recorded recently that: “I can personally attest to the effort needed to continue swinging for the 10-15 minutes the ball will burn.”  

The ceremony is said to date from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but these torch processions can be dated back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and there are a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

Another, more detailed, theory is that at some time in the Dark Ages a shooting star appeared above what is now Stonehaven and that those living nearby had bumper crops in the following year. The seers of the tribe then attributed this prosperity to the coming of the shooting star.  The Fireball is regarded as a mimic of that shooting star and that recalling it at this time will bring a return of that prosperity.

Now, whatever the background, this celebration has become such a popular event that, in the interests of safety, barriers are erected to separate the swingers and pipe bands, and control the thousands that come to spectate! But the spectacle and atmosphere are still second to none.