Special Days Celebrated In Yorkshire and the United Kingdom:
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New Year's Day - Twelfth Night - Epiphany - Plough Monday - Burn's Night - Yorkshire Pudding Day - Candlemas Day - St. Valentine's Day - Shrove Tuesday - Ash Wednesday - St. David's Day - Commonwealth Day - St. Patrick's Day - Mother's Day - First Day of Spring - April Fool's Day - Palm Sunday - The Queen's Birthday - St. George's Day - Maundy Thursday - Good Friday - Easter Sunday - Easter Monday - May Day - Ascension Day - Pentecost - Coronation Day - Trooping the Colour - Father's Day - Summer Solstice - Midsummer's Day - St. Swithin's Day - Yorkshire Day - First Day Of Autumn - Hallowe'en Night - All Saints Day - All Souls Day - Mischief Night - Bonfire Night - Remembrance Sunday - Armistice Day - St. Andrew's Day - Advent Sunday - Christmas Day - Boxing Day - New Year's Eve.


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New Year's Day
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Every
January
1st
NewYear's Day is a public holiday in the United Kingdom and at midnight on New Year's Eve, as the New Year begins, the chimes of Big Ben are broadcast to the nation, to mark the start of the New Year in the Gregorian calendar, and a large fireworks display is started on the banks of the Thames, in London; the 2012 New Year's fireworks display dazzled its way into the early minutes of the New Year and has been widely hailed, by both the media and public, as an "awesome" display and a stunning success; in other places around the United Kingdom's coast, groups of people dressed up in fancy costumes and ran into the cold sea.

Many people now make New Year's resolutions; these are promises to themselves that they will lead a better life in some way in the coming year; common New Year's resolutions include stopping smoking, losing weight, eating more healthily, getting more exercise or spending less money.

In Scotland many people sing the song 'Auld Lang Syne' at the stroke of midnight as New Year's Day begins; in Scotland and northern England, it is customary to go first footing; this is the first person to enter a house on January 1; a male first footer supposedly brings good luck, but a female bad luck; in different areas there are different traditions about whether the first footer should have fair or dark hair, whether the person should bring coal, salt or other things and what food or drink that person should be served after arrival.


Twelfth Night
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Every
January
5th
Twelfth Night is the night before Twelfth Day and the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking; this is supposedly when all Christmas Decorations should be removed, so as not to bring bad luck upon the home; if decorations are not removed on Twelfth Night, they should stay up all year.

Long ago it was thought that leaving the decorations up would cause a disaster because people believed that tree spirits lived in the greenery, holy, ivy etc, that they decorated their houses with; the greenery was brought into the house to provide a safe haven for the tree spirits during the harsh midwinter days; once this period was over it was necessary to return the greenery back outside to release the tree spirits into the countryside once again; failure to do this would mean that vegetation would not be able to start growing again and spring would not return, leading to an agricultural disaster.

It was also thought that, if you left the greenery in the house, the tree spirits would cause mischief in the house until they were released; today many people still feel uneasy about leaving the Christmas decorations up after Twelfth Night, despite most decorations now being made of foil or paper and even though the tree spirits are long forgotten, the superstition still survives.

Epiphany
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Every
January
6th
Epiphany is Twelfth Day the last day of the Christmas season; in the Church of England, the Christmas season begins at Evening Prayer on Christmas Eve; therefore, Twelfth Day, as its name suggests, is the sixth of January, just twelve days after Christmas Day.

This day is the feast of Epiphany, the term epiphany means 'To Show', To Make Known' or 'To Reveal' and in Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the child Jesus, who by so doing 'Reveal' Jesus to the world as Lord and King and in some Eastern churches, Epiphany commemorates Jesus' baptism, with the visit of the Magi linked to Christmas.

For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from 6th January until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter; in some western traditions, the last Sunday of Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday, but the Roman Catholic tradition observes Epiphany as a single day.

The colours of Epiphany are usually the colours of Christmas, white and gold, the colours of celebration, newness and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year; the traditional liturgical colour after Epiphany is green, the colour of growth.

Plough Monday
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Plough Monday is the first Monday after Epiphany, it marked the end of the Christmas period for the agricultural communities and was a day when ploughmen traditionally blackened their faces; as agricultural work was scarce in the winter, so was money, therefore, farm labourers disguised themselves, by blacking their faces with soot, so that they could not be recognised by their future employers, and in order to get money they dragged a decorated plough around the larger houses in the villages; as they dragged the plough they would shout out "Penny for the ploughboys!".

The ploughs were often decorated with colourful rags and ribbons and they were often accompanied by someone acting the Fool; this character would often be dressed in animal skins and a tail and carried a pig's bladder on the end of a stick; in the past, Molly dancers also accompanied the farm labourers to dance and entertain for money; though, molly dancing traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris dancing.

In medieval times it was common for ploughs to be blessed by the church on Plough Sunday; farmers resumed their work on Plough Monday after the 12 days of Christmas; Plough Monday plays were also popular in parts of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands; they were similar to that of Christmas Mummers Plays in that they were performed by young men and included some of the same story elements, such as the death and resurrection of one of the characters.

During the 19th century, straw bears were a familiar sight as well, instead of dragging a decorated plough, one of the farm labourers would dress up as a straw bear, clothed in a layer of straw, and along with other farm labourers would beg door to door for money; this tradition is maintained every year in January, in Whittlesey, near Peterborough and on the Saturday before Plough Monday the Straw Bear is paraded through the streets of Whittlesey; in this case, the bear is a man covered from head to foot in a straw costume that weighs about five stone; the Straw bear normally attended by a host of morris, molly and folk dancing, and musicians from all over the UK.

Burn's Night
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Every
January
25th
Burn's Night is celebrated in Scotland on or around January 25; it commemorates the life of the bard 'Poet' Robert Burns, who was born on the 25th January 1759; the day also celebrates Burns' contribution to Scottish culture; Burns' best known work is "Auld Lang Syne", which is sung at New Year's Eve celebrations in Scotland, parts of the United Kingdom, and other places around the world.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties are traditionally eaten in Scotland on Burns Night and many people and organisations hold a Burns' supper on or around Burns' Night; these may be informal or formal, only for men, only for women, or for both genders; formal events include toasts and readings of pieces written by Robert Burns; a typical evening centers on the entrance of the haggis, a type of sausage prepared in a sheep's stomach, on a large platter to the sound of a piper playing bagpipes; when the haggis is on the table, the host reads the 'Address to a Haggis', which is an ode that Robert Burns wrote to the Scottish dish; at the end of the reading, the haggis is ceremonially sliced into two pieces and the meal begins.

Robert Burns is one of Scotland's important cultural icons and is well known among Scottish expats or descendants around the world; he is also known as 'Rabbie Burns', the 'Bard of Ayrshire', 'Scotland's favourite son' and in Scotland 'The Bard'; Robert Burns' acquaintances held the first Burns' supper on, the 21st July, the anniversary of his death, in Ayrshire, Scotland, in the late 1700s; the date was later changed to January 25, which marks his birthday; Burns' suppers are now held by people and organisations with Scottish origins worldwide, particularly in Australia, Canada, England and the United States.
Yorkshire Pudding Day
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Since 2008, Yorkshire Pudding Day has been on the 1st Sunday in February each year, a day that I feel cannot pass without some form of celebration!

The Day was first launched on the 3rd of February 2008, by Florence Sandeman as an homage to an iconic British dish.

Yorkshire Pudding is a dish that originated in Yorkshire and is made from batter and usually served with roast meat and gravy; it is a staple of the British Sunday lunch.

In some cases it is eaten as a separate course prior to the main meat dish; this was the traditional method of eating the pudding and is still common in parts of Yorkshire today; because the rich gravy from the roast meat drippings was used up with the first course, the main meat and vegetable course was often served with a parsley or white sauce.

 



Candlemas Day
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Every
February
2nd
Candlemas Day commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus; this day also marks the ritual presentation of the baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem; the Gospel of Luke says that Jesus was met by Anna and Simeon and when Simeon held the baby Jesus he called him a Light to the World.

Ritual purification stems back to a Jewish tradition that women were considered unclean after the birth of a child; therefore, for 40 days for a boy and 60 days for a girl, women weren't allowed to worship in the temple; at the end of this time, women were brought to the Temple or Synagogue to be purified; after the ceremony women were allowed to take part in religious services again.

The festival is called Candlemas because this was the day that all of the Church's candles for the year were blessed and many people place lighted candles in their windows at home; in pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light and this ancient festival marked the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice, the shortest day, and the spring equinox and some people lit candles to scare away evil spirits on the dark winter nights.

People also believed that Candlemas predicted the weather for the rest of the winter:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight;
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, Winter won't come again.


Different superstitions surround this festival, for instance, if a candle drips on one side when carried in church on Candlemas, it denotes a death of a family member during the year; if someone brings snowdrops into the house on Candlemas day it symbolises a parting or death and any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night should be left up until Candlemas Day and then taken down.

 

St. Valentine's Day
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Every
February
14th
St. Valentine's Day has become the date for exchanging love messages and for the celebration of St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers; the date is marked by sending poems and simple gifts, such as flowers, to loved ones and secret loves; Valentine's Day started in the time of the Roman Empire; in ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno, who was the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses and was Goddess of women and marriage.

St. Valentine's Day may have originated from St. Valentine, a Roman who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity; he died on February 14, 269 A.D; legend says that St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine" and in 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius set aside the 14th February to honour St. Valentine.

Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns; Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues; he believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loves or families; as a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.

The good Saint Valentine was a priest at Rome in the days of Claudius II and he and Saint Marius aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples and for this kind deed Saint Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off; he suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about the year 270.

 

See St. Valentine's Day

Shrove Tuesday
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Shrove Tuesday is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday and is therefore the final day before the commencement of Lent, a Christian festival leading up to Easter Sunday.

Shrove Tuesday always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, so the date varies from year to year and falls between the 3rd February and 9th March.

Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, is the last day before Lent and it is traditional to eat pancakes on this day; Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up, so Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself and to use up the foods that aren't allowed in Lent; pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden during Lent.


Ash Wednesday
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Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday, and lasts for six and a half weeks, so the date varies from year to year and falls between the 4th February and 10th March.

Ash Wednesday, also known as Lent, is a Christian Festival and in the past it was a long, strict religious fast when people gave up all rich food; it is the time when Christians prepare for the greatest of the Christian festivals known as Easter, by thinking of things they have done wrong; it was also a time for spring cleaning lives, as well as homes.

The Christian church no longer imposes a strict fast and Lent is now a time when some Christians try to overcome their own faults because they believe that it was man's sin which led Jesus to be crucified.

"All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return."
Ecclesiastes 3:20

Some Christians try to follow the example of Jesus in the desert by giving up luxuries and practising self-discipline and they try to put aside more time for prayer and religious acts so that they can really let God into their lives.

St. David's Day
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Every
March
1st
St. David's Day is celebrated in Wales, in honour of Dewi Sant or St. David, the patron saint of Wales; little is known about him for certain; what little information we have is based on an account of his life written by Rhigyfarch towards the end of the 11th century according to this Latin manuscript, Dewi died in the year 589; his mother was called Non and his father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion; after being educated in Cardiganshire, he went on a pilgrimage through south Wales and the west of England, where it is said that he founded religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland; he even went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made archbishop.

He eventually settled at Glyn Rhosyn (St David's), in south west Wales, where he established a very strict ascetic religious community; many miracles have been attributed to him, the most incredible of which was performed when he was preaching at the Synod of Llanddewibrefi, he caused the ground to rise underneath him so that he could be seen and heard by all.

From the 12th century onwards, Dewi's fame spread throughout South Wales and as far as Ireland and Brittany; St David's Cathedral became a popular centre of pilgrimage, particularly after Dewi was officially recognised as a Catholic saint in 1120; from this period on, he was frequently referred to in the work of medieval Welsh poets such as Iolo Goch and Lewys Glyn Cothi.

In 1398, it was ordained that his feast-day was to be kept by every church in the Province of Canterbury; though the feast of Dewi as a religious festival came to an end with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the day of his birth became a national festival during the18th century.

Now the 1st March is celebrated by schools and cultural societies throughout Wales; it is the custom on that day to fly the Welsh National flag and to wear either a Leek or a Daffodil, two Welsh national emblems, and for young girls to wear the national costume.



Commonwealth Day
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Commonwealth Day is the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations held on the second Monday in March and marked by a multi faith service in Westminster Abbey, normally attended by the Head of the Commonwealth, the current King or Queen, with the Commonwealth Secretary General and Commonwealth High Commissioners in London; the King or Queen delivers an address to the Commonwealth, which is broadcast throughout the world.

In the year before the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, the Queen starts the Queen's Baton Relay on Commonwealth Day at Buckingham Palace, handing the baton to the first relay runner to start a journey that will end at the Opening Ceremony of the upcoming Games; while it has a certain official status, Commonwealth Day is not a public holiday in most Commonwealth countries and there is little public awareness of it.

Clementina Trenholme first introduced Empire Day in Canadian schools, in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1898, on the last school day before the 24th May, Queen Victoria's birthday; it was celebrated more each year; a typical Empire Day in Hamilton schools occupied the entire day and included inspirational speeches by trustees and songs such as 'The Maple Leaf', 'Forever' and 'Just Before the Battle'; Empire Day was instituted in the United Kingdom in 1904 by Lord Meath and extended throughout the countries of the Commonwealth; this day was celebrated by lighting fireworks in back gardens or attending community bonfires; it gave the Queen's people a chance to show their pride in being part of the British Empire.

In 1958 Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day, in accordance with the new post colonial relationship between the nations of the former empire; the National Council in Canada of the Royal Commonwealth Society expressed in a 1973 letter to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that Commonwealth Day should be observed on the same day throughout all countries of the Commonwealth; they asked that this notion be included on the agenda of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Ottawa that year; the item eventually appeared on the agenda of the 1975 meeting and it was agreed that the Commonwealth Secretariat select a date, preferably one without previous historical connotations; at the meeting of officials in Canberra in 1976, the Canadian proposal of the second Monday in March was adopted.

In the UK the Union Flag is flown from public buildings on the second Monday in March to mark Commonwealth Day and the Queen, and other members of the Royal family, attend a special service at Westminster Abbey.

 



St. Patrick's Day
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Every
March
17th
St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by the Irish as well as many Americans with parades, parties, wearing of green, Irish songs and jigs; people wear green on this day to represent the lushness of Ireland, 'The Emerald Isle'.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and the Irish; he was born about 389 in Northern Wales, which at that time may have been part of England or Scotland, but he was captured by pirates at the age of 16 and they brought him to Ireland to tend the flocks of a chieftain in Ulster.

Six years of slavery made him a devoted Christian and then he escaped to France and became a monk; in 432, a vision led him to return to Ireland as a missionary bishop; he brought Christianity to Ireland and taught there for 29 years; he used the shamrock, a 3 leaf clover, Ireland's national flower, to explain the Blessed Trinity; he founded 365 churches, baptized over 120,000 people and consecrated 450 bishops.

Many tales sprung up about this popular saint; one of the most popular legends was how he charmed all the snakes of Ireland down to the seashore to be drowned by the water; according to some Irish writings, St. Patrick died on the 17th March 461 A.D and the anniversary of his death is celebrated as St. Patrick's Day.

It's interesting to note that the shamrock clover flowers around that time of year; the first official celebration of St. Patrick's Day in the United States occurred in Morristown, New Jersey in 1780; it was authorised by George Washington.



Mother's Day
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Mother's Day is not a fixed day because it is always the fourth Sunday in Lent, which lasts from Ash Wednesday to the day before Easter Sunday; this means that Mother's Day in the UK will fall on different dates Every year and sometimes even fall in different months.

Mother's Day, also known as Mothering Sunday, is a time when children pay respect to their Mothers and children often give their Mothers a gift and a card; it has been celebrated in the UK on the fourth Sunday in Lent since at least the 16th century.

Mothering Sunday was also known as 'Refreshment Sunday', Pudding Pie Sunday and Mid-Lent Sunday; it was a day in Lent when the fasting rules were relaxed, in honour of the 'Feeding of the Five Thousand', a story in the Christian Bible; no one is absolutely certain exactly how the name of Mothering Sunday began; however, one theory is that the celebration could have been adopted from a Roman Spring festival celebrating Cybele, their Mother Goddess.

Mother Church: As Christianity spread, this date was adopted by Christians; the epistle in the Book of Common Prayer for this Sunday refers to the heavenly Jerusalem as the Mother of us all and this may have prompted the customs we still see today; what is known is that on this date, about four hundred years ago, people made a point of visiting their nearest big church, the Mother Church, the church in which each person was baptised; Cathedrals are known as the mother church of all other churches in an area, the diocese, and those who visited their mother church would say they had gone a mothering.

Those in Service: Young British girls and boys in sevice, the maids and servants, at the local Manor House or Mansion, were only allowed one day to visit their family each year and this was usually on Mothering Sunday; for some this could be a significant journey since their mother may have lived some distance away, in many cases it was in another town altogether from the Manor in which they were put in to service; often the housekeeper or cook would allow the maids to bake a cake to take home for their mother; sometimes a gift of eggs or flowers from the garden, or hothouse (greenhouse), was allowed.

Maids and servants were put in to service for the Landed Gentry and paid a small salary but boarded free of charge; they dealt with everything from cleaning, washing to cooking, so to have a day of rest and to be able to visit their mother was quite a privilege; the most favoured cake was, as it still is in some families, a fruit cake known as a Simnel Cake, which has a flat layer of marzipan on top, decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles, minus Judas, who betrayed Christ; see old English poetry:

˜I'll to thee a Simnell bring, ˜Gainst thou go'st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee, Half that blessing thou'lt give to me.

Robert Herrick 1648


Whatever the origin, I think that it is an excellent time of year to show how much you love your mother, so don't forget to go visit her.

Happy Mother's Day!

First Day of Spring
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Every
March
20th
The First Day of Spring in the northern hemisphere, is the day of the year when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards; there are two equinoxes every year, in March and September, when the sun shines directly on the equator; the declination of the Sun on an equinox is 00' 00' and day and night have nearly the same amounts of time; the seasons are opposite on either side of the equator, so the equinox in March is also known as the 'Spring (vernal) Equinox' in the northern hemisphere; however, in the southern hemisphere, it's known as the 'Autumnal (fall) Equinox'; 'Equinox', derived from Latin, means 'Equal Night'.

As the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the north south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year because of the changing orientation of the Earth's tilted rotation axes; the dates of maximum tilt of the Earth's equator correspond to the Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice and the dates of zero tilt to the Vernal Equinox and Autumnal Equinox; for part of the year the Earth's North Pole points away from the sun and part of the time toward it; this is what causes our seasons; when the North Pole points toward the sun, the sun's rays hit the northern half of the world more directly; that means it is warmer and we have summer.

In reality equinoxes don't have exactly 12 hours of daylight; the September equinox occurs the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth's equator, from north to south; this happens either on the 19th, 20th or 21st March every year; on any other day of the year, the Earth's axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun, but on the two equinoxes, the Earth's axis doesn't tilt either away.

In the northern hemisphere the March equinox marks the first day of Spring, which has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth and many cultures and religions celebrate or observe holidays and festivals around this equinox, like Easter and Passover; from here on out, the temperatures begin to rise and the days start to get longer.

April Fool's Day
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Every
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1st
April Fool's Day is unusual, due to the fact that unlike most of the other special days, the history of April Fool's Day, sometimes called All Fool's Day, is not totally clear; no-one knows when the first April Fool's Day was; some believe that it sort of evolved simultaneously in several cultures at the same time, from celebrations involving the first day of spring; the closest point in time that can be identified as the beginning of this tradition was in 1582, in France; prior to that year, the new year was celebrated for eight days, beginning on the 25th March and the celebration culminated on the 1st April, but with the reform of the calendar under Charles IX, the Gregorian Calendar was introduced and New Year's Day was moved to the 1st January.

However, communications being what it was in the days when news traveled by foot, many people did not receive the news for several years and others refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the new year on the 1st April; these folk were labeled as 'Fools' by the general populace and were subject to some ridicule; they were often sent on 'Fools Errands' or made the butt of practical jokes; this harassment evolved, over time, into a tradition of prank playing on the 1st April.

The tradition eventually spread to England and Scotland in the 18th century; April Fool's Day thus developed into an international fun fest, so to speak, with different nationalities specialising in their own brand of humour at the expense of their friends and families; in Scotland, for example, April Fool's Day is actually celebrated for two days; the second day is devoted to pranks involving the posterior region of the body and is called 'Taily Day'; the origin of the "kick me" sign can be traced to this observance; pranks performed on April Fool's Day range from the simple, such as saying, "Your shoe's untied", to the elaborate; setting a roommate's alarm clock back an hour is a common gag; whatever the prank, the trickster usually ends it by yelling to his victim, "April Fool!"

Practical jokes are a common practice on April Fool's Day; sometimes, elaborate practical jokes are played on friends or relatives that last the entire day; even the news media gets involved; for instance, a British short film, by Panorama, shown on April Fool's Day 1957 was a fairly detailed documentary about 'Spaghetti farmers' and how they harvest their crop from the spaghetti trees; it's simply a fun day, but a day on which one must remain forever vigilant, for you may be the next April Fool!

Palm Sunday
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Palm Sunday is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, which is the week before Easter, commemorating events in the last days of Jesus' life on Earth; it begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Monday.

Palm Sunday is a time of celebration; it celebrates Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover; great crowds of people lined the streets waving palm branches to welcome him, hence the name 'Palm Sunday'; the people were very excited and spread branches on the road, some even laid down their clothes and they shouted 'Hosanna!', which means 'Save us Now!'

Palm Sunday is also a time of sadness because Jesus died on a cross less than a week after he had entered Jerusalem; nowadays on Palm Sunday, children are often given crosses made from single palm leaves; traditionally, many churches will have a procession in or around the church whilst people sing songs of praise and wave palm leaves; this is to help them imagine what Jesus' entry into Jerusalem might have been like.

The Queen's Birthday
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Every
April
21st
The Queen's Birthday is always on the 21st April; however, the Queen's Official Birthday, or the King's Official Birthday in the reign of a male monarch, is the selected day on which the birthday of the monarch of the Commonwealth realms, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is officially celebrated in those countries; the date varies as adopted by each Commonwealth country, but is generally around the end of May to the start of June, to coincide with a high probability of fine weather in the Northern Hemisphere for outdoor ceremonies.

The sovereign's birthday was first officially marked in the United Kingdom in 1748; since then, the date of the king or queen's birthday has been determined throughout the British Empire, and later the Commonwealth, according to either different royal proclamations issued by the sovereign or governor or by statute laws passed by the local parliament; the exact date of the celebration today varies from country to country and except by coincidence does not fall on the day of the monarch's actual birthday, that of the present monarch being the 21st April; in some cases, it is an official public holiday, sometimes coinciding with the celebration of other events; most Commonwealth realms release a Birthday Honours List at this time.

 



St. George's Day
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Every
April
23rd
St. George's Day celebrates the death of England's patron saint; St. George was born to Christian parents in 270 in Cappadocia, now Eastern Turkey; he moved to Palestine with his Mother and became a Roman soldier, rising to the high rank of Tribunus Militum; however, he later resigned his military post and protested against his pagan leader, the Emperor Diocletian (245 to 313 AD), who led Rome's persecution of Christians; his rebellion against the Emperor resulted in his imprisonment, but even after torture he stayed true to his faith; the enraged Diocletian had St. George dragged through the streets of Nicomedia, Turkey, on the 23rd of April 303 and had him beheaded; the Emperor's wife was so inspired by St. George's bravery and loyalty to his religion, that she too became a Christian and was subsequently executed for her faith.

The History of St George's Day: In 1222 the Council of Oxford declared the 23rd April to be St. George's Day; though, it was not until 1348 that St. George became the Patron Saint of England and in 1415, St. George's Day was declared a national feast day and holiday in England; however, after the union with Scotland at the end of the 18th Century, the tradition diminished and since then has not been widely acknowledged and is no longer a national holiday.

As the Crusaders returned to England from foreign shores, they brought with them tales of St. George and his reputation grew; a church in Fordington, Dorset, records the miracle appearance, where St. George presented himself outside Jerusalem in 1099 and led the Crusaders into battle; the story is etched into stone over the southern door of the church which still stands today; it is the earliest known church in England to be dedicated to the patron Saint.

English soldiers wore a sign of St George on their chest and on their backs in the 14th century, as the Saint was regarded as a special protector of the English; King Edward III (1312 to 1377) founded the Order of the Garter in 1348, the premier order of chivalry or knighthood in England; the Order was put under St. George's patronage and the medal is awarded on the 23rd April by the reigning Monarch; the King's predecessors King Edward IV & King Henry VII, oversaw the construction of the beautiful St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, which presented itself as the chapel of the Order, but it was in the year 1415 that St. George became the Patron Saint of England when English Soldiers under Henry V won the battle of Agincourt.

In 1497, during the reign of King Henry VIII, the pennant of the Cross of St. George was flown by John Cabot when he sailed to Newfoundland and it was also flown by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh; in 1620 it was the flag that was flown by the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts; it is also the flag of the Church of England and as such is known throughout Christendom.

In the year 1728 Maximilian II Emanuel, the Elector of Bavaria, established by Papal Bull The Royal Military Order of St. George, as a means of honouring distinguished military service, for it was clear that by this time, his name had become associated with the purity of spirit, selfless devotion to duty and boundless courage and valour in the face of adversity; in more recent times, St. George was chosen as the patron saint of Scouting, because of the ideals that he represents and it is interesting to note that he is also the Patron Saint of Barcelona in Catalonia, Aragon, Russia, Bavaria, Beirut, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Lithuania and Hungary, to name but a few; virtually every country in Europe and the Commonwealth has a church dedicated to St. George.

During World War II, King George VI established the George Cross for outstanding acts of Civilian Valour and one of the earliest recipients was the Island of Malta, for its outstanding courage in the face of the constant bombardment by the Italian and German Air forces; in the 13th Century, there was a Guild of St. George, to which the Honourable Company of Pikemen were related before evolving into the Honourable Artillery Company and many regiments of the Army still celebrate St. George's Day with great ceremony.

Traditionally, on this day, St. George's flag is flown, people wear a red rose in one's lapel and the hymn ˜Jerusalem' is sung on the 23rd April, or the nearest Sunday to that date, in churches across the nation.



Maundy Thursday
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Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday and is one of the lesser known days of the Christian calendar and commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles; during the meal Jesus took bread and wine and shared them with his disciples and Christians continue to share bread and wine as part of their worship in church.

The Last Supper was probably a Passover meal, the meal which Jewish people share together to celebrate the time when God delivered Moses and the people from slavery in Egypt; the night of Maundy Thursday is the night on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of ethsemane; the name 'Maundy' is derived from the Latin word 'mandatum', meaning a commandment and Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper, commanded:

And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
John 13:34

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, is the beginning of the three day celebration of Easter, the most important time in the year for Christians; this period, 'The Triduum', is one big celebration, remembering the last supper, the crucifixion, the death of Jesus and his Resurrection to a new life.

The Washing Of Feet: During the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples' feet; this act has sometimes been followed literally in history as a good way of reminding rulers that they are here to serve their subjects; in England, the custom of washing feet by the Monarch was carried out until 1689; up until then the King or Queen would wash the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday in Westminster Abbey; you should, however note, that the feet were first washed by Yeoman of the Laundry before the monarch had to wash them and kiss them; food and clothing were also handed out to the poor.

Maundy Thursday Ceremony: In Britain today, the Queen follows a very traditional role of giving Maundy Money to a group of pensioners; the tradition of the Sovereign giving money to the poor dates from the 13th century, from the reign of Edward I; Maundy money as such started in the reign of Charles II with an undated issue of hammered coins in 1662; the coins were a fourpenny, threepenny, twopenny and one penny piece but it was not until 1670 that a dated set of all four coins appeared.

At one time recipients were required to be of the same sex as the Sovereign, but since the fifteenth century the amount of Maundy coins handed out and the number of people receiving the coins, is related to the years of the Sovereign's life; prior to this, ordinary coinage was used for Maundy gifts, silver pennies alone being used by the Tudors and Stuarts for the ceremony.

Every year on this day, the Queen attends a Royal Maundy service in one of the many cathedrals throughout the country and Maundy money is distributed to male and female pensioners from local communities near the Cathedral where the Service takes place; the men and women who receive the coins are all retired pensioners recommended by clergy and ministers of all denominations, in recognition of service to the Church and to the community.

The Service: Yeomen of the Guards carry the Maundy Money in red and white leather purses on golden alms trays on their heads; the money in the red purse is money in lieu of food and clothing while the money in the white purse is the Maundy coins; in 2009, every recipient was given two purses, a red purse containing a £5 coin celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII and a 50p coin to mark the founding of Kew Gardens and a white purse containing 83p in Maundy coins because the Queen was 83 years old in this year.

What is Maundy Money? Maundy coins are specially minted for the occasion and are legal tender and, as they are produced in such limited numbers, they are much sought after by collectors; a complete set of Maundy money consists of a Penny (1p), a Half Groat (2p), a Threepence (3p) and a Groat (4p).
 


Maundy Coins

Penny
Half Groat
Threepence
Groat

Good Friday
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Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday and a day for Christians to remember when Jesus was crucified on a cross; the date of Good Friday changes every year, but it is the Friday before Easter Sunday, which falls on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon is on, or after, the 21st March and is taken to be the date of the vernal equinox.

The Anglo Saxon name for Good Friday was Long Friday, due to the long fast imposed upon this day; Good Friday was not celebrated as the day Christ died until the 4th century and the name may be derived from 'God's Friday' in the same way that Good Bye is derived from 'God be with ye'; it is 'Good' because the barrier of sin was broken.

What happened on Good Friday? Jesus was arrested and was tried, in a mock trial; he was handed over to the Roman soldiers to be beaten and flogged with whips and a crown of long, sharp thorns was thrust upon his head; Jesus was forced to carry his own cross outside the city to Skull Hill; he was so weak after the beating that a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was pulled from the crowd and forced to carry Jesus' cross the rest of the way.

Jesus was nailed to the cross and two criminals were crucified with him, their crosses were placed on either side of him; according to the bible, a sign above Jesus read "The King of the Jews".

On the third hour of the day (9:00 am) Jesus was nailed to the cross.
On the Sixth Hour of the day (12:00 noon) darkness covered the land.
On the ninth hour of the day (3:00 pm) the darkness left and the Lord died.


The hours in the bible are calculated from the first hour of the day, being 6:00 am in the morning; Christians believe that Jesus stood in our place and that his death paid the penalty not for his own wrong doings but for ours.

What happens today on Good Friday? Since the early 19th century, before the introduction of bank holidays, Good Friday and Christmas Day were the only two days of leisure, which were almost universally granted to working people; Good Friday today is still a public holiday in much of the UK and some Christians fast (go without food) on Good Friday; this helps them to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for them on the day of crucifixion; some Christians take part in a procession of witness, carrying a cross through the streets and then into church; many churches hold a special service, which may be a communion service in the evening, or a time of prayer during the day, especially around 3:00 pm as that is about the time of day when Jesus died; the services normally last around 3 hours.

It is traditional to eat fish on Good Friday instead of meat; it is also traditional to eat warm 'Hot Cross Buns'; these buns have a mix of spicy, sweet and fruity flavours and were traditionally eaten at breakfast time, hot from the oven; the pastry cross on top of the buns symbolises and reminds Christians of the cross that Jesus was killed on; there is also an old Rhyme about them and they were once sold by street vendors who sang a little song about them:

Rhyme: Good Friday comes this month: the old woman runs, With one a penny, two a penny hot cross buns;
Rhyme: Whose virtue is, if you'll believe what's said, They'll not grow mouldy like the common bread.

Vendor Song: Hot cross buns, Hot cross buns, One a penny, Two a penny, Hot cross buns.


At the London Pub, 'The Widow's Son', a Hot Cross Bun Ceremony takes place each Good Friday; in the early 19th century, a widow who lived on the site was expecting her sailor son back home for Easter and placed a hot cross bun ready for him on Good Friday; the son never returned, but undaunted the widow left the bun waiting for him and added a new bun each year; successive landlords have kept the tradition going after the pub was opened.


King of the Jews










Easter Sunday
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Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year and is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar; the First Council of Nicaea in 325 established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon following the northern hemisphere's vernal equinox; ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on the 21st March, even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on the 20th March in most years and the Full Moon is not necessarily the astronomically correct date; the date of Easter therefore, varies between the 22nd March and the 25th April.

According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, which is variously interpreted to have occurred between (26 and 36) AD, and his resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday, also known as Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday; Easter also marks the end of Lent, a forty day period of fasting, prayer, and penance; the last week of the Lent is called Holy Week and is followed by a fifty day period called 'Eastertide' or the 'Easter Season' ending with Pentecost Sunday.

Easter Eggs are special eggs that are often given to celebrate Easter; the oldest tradition is to use dyed or painted chicken eggs, but the modern custom is to give chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jelly beans; these eggs can be hidden for children to find on Easter morning, who may be told they were left by the Easter Bunny; they may also be put in a basket filled with real or artificial straw to resemble a bird's nest; the egg is widely used as a symbol of the start of new life, just as new life emerges from an egg when the chick hatches out.

The Easter Bunny: The origin of the Easter Bunny can be traced back to the ancient Pagan settlements; they regarded rabbits as symbols of fertility, because the animal gives birth to multiple offspring at a time and since rabbits were fertility icons, they became symbols of the rising fertility of the Earth, at the Vernal Equinox and ancient tribes celebrated the beginning of spring at the Vernal Equinox, by blessing seeds for growth and placing coloured eggs on an altar.

Another story, connected to the origin of the Easter Bunny, is also related to an ancient Pagan legend; the Goddess Eostre, the most worshipped Pagan deity, retrieved a wounded bird in a snowy forest, during a winter season and to help it survive the chilly winter, the Goddess turned it into a rabbit; however, it was not a complete transformation of the bird to a rabbit and hence, it continued to lay eggs; to extend its gratitude, the rabbit decorated its eggs beautifully and presented them to the deity, every spring.

Easter Monday
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Easter Monday is the last day in a four day weekend, after Easter and has little religious significance; the tradition of having a holiday on the Monday after Easter stems from the medieval festival of Hocktide, which was a two day festival on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter, originating in the 11th century.

Some stories say that on the Monday the men of a town tied up the women and demanded a kiss from them before they were freed; others say that a man had to carry a women for a certain distance or lift her up a given number of times in return for a kiss; now Hocktide is only celebrated in the town of Hungerford in Berkshire and the main events are on the Tuesday after Easter.

In some places, there are egg rolling competitions, where hard boiled eggs are rolled down a hill; customs differ from place to place, but the winner's egg may be the one that rolls the farthest, survives the most rolls, or is rolled between two pegs; lots of places have Easter bonnet parades, displays of traditional Morris dancing, fairs or special sports matches.




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