With hundreds of years of history and culture, Britain has developed some interesting traditions. Many towns and villages throughout the country have their own unique and wacky customs, ranging from cheese rolling, to morris dancing, and even Victorian themed evenings. These eccentric events often date right back to the middle ages and continue, mostly unchanged, to this day. Britain also has its fair share of unique national days and festivals; some, like St George’s day are quite well-known, but there are also some obscure examples that you may not have heard of.
One that you might be familiar with is Bonfire night, otherwise known as ‘Guy Fawkes night’. It marks the anniversary of the foiling of the infamous gunpowder plot of 1605, when a man named Guy Fawkes and a group of plotters attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. They wanted to kill King James I because of his unfair laws towards Catholics, so they placed barrels of gunpowder in the basement, intending to blow them up at the next Opening of Parliament. On 5 November, before their plan could come to fruition, Guy Fawkes – who had been given the task of keeping watch over the barrels and lighting the fuse - was discovered hiding in the cellars by soldiers. To celebrate the foiling of the plot, Bonfire night celebrations take place annually on the 5 November. The evening involves lighting a great bonfire upon which people burn ‘Guys’; effigies of Guy Fawkes. A traditional cake made from oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup called a Parkin Cake is often eaten, along with sausages cooked over the flames and marshmallows toasted in the open fire. To this day at the State Opening of Parliament, the day begins with the Yeoman of the Guard – royal bodyguards otherwise known as Beefeaters – searching the cellars of the Houses of Parliament.
To find out how and where to celebrate this year in London, check out our blog post dedicated to Guy Fawkes Night.
The Queen’s birthday parade
In England the Queen has two birthdays; one on 21 April, the anniversary of the day she was born, and one ‘official’ birthday in June. Since the reign of George II in 1748, it has become tradition to celebrate the birthday of the sovereign during the summer to avoid bad weather. King George II was born in November, and felt that this time of year was too cold for his annual birthday parade. Queen Elizabeth II was given the option of having an ‘official’ birthday, and chose to keep the June celebrations. During the early part of her reign it was celebrated on a Thursday, but she changed it to a Saturday so the public could enjoy it more. It is marked by a ceremony known as the Trooping the Colour, it’s official name is ‘the Queen’s birthday parade’, and it is the biggest royal event of the year. The origins of the parade go back to the days when the Colours (the flag of the regiment) were trooped in front of soldiers to ensure they would recognise it in battle. Today, they are paraded in front of the Queen’s troops of the Household Division (Foot Guards and Household Cavalry).
In 1482, the Act of Swans declared all swans in the country as property of the reigning monarch, as such the annual Swan Upping happens every July. During the ceremony, all swans and cygnets along the River Thames are marked, checked and counted by the official Swan Warden and the Queen’s Swan Uppers. This gives an insight into how well Thames swans are doing. In 2009, Queen Elizabeth II herself attended the Swan Upping ceremony for the first time in her reign, making it the first time that the monarch has personally watched the ceremony in centuries. Local schools are often asked to attend so that they can learn more about swans and the history of the tradition. The data collected has reflected enormous changes in the river’s environment over the years, and has helped to increase awareness of various methods of conservation, leading to a safer environment for the swans.
Interested in learning more about England and perhaps even studying there? Find out if studying English at our London school is right for you.