OCTOBER 2000

It's party time

People on the continent often have a tendency to view those of us living on the British Isles as a bit 'eccentric', or in any case possibly a bit 'different' to much of the rest of Europe. At least part of that lies in our traditional celebrations and festivities. Even though the Member States of the EU are becoming 'ever closer' some things are still done a bit differently in the UK to Belgium. I have described the main festivals below - handy for the purposes of recognition, or making sure you don't try to contact someone on a day off!

New Year's Day (1 January) - no great surprises here, this day is celebrated as in much of the rest of the continent with a pubic holiday to recover from the revelries of the night before!

St Valentine's Day (14 February) - a day when all hearts are in mouths. We British have a great culture of card sending and anyone whose doormat passes the day empty is sure to be disappointed.

Shrove/Pancake Tuesday - a fun festival that provides an excellent excuse to eat pancakes all day long. Pancakes taste similar to crepes, but are smaller and thicker in shape. This festival marks the last chance to eat to your fill before lent.

Easter - Easter is celebrated in a similar way to other countries. The religious festival is the same and, as in Belgium, eggs, especially chocolate eggs of all shapes and sizes, are presented to children. Sometimes, these will be hidden in the garden or around the house suggesting they have been left by the 'Easter bunny', our rabbit friend. Often, hens' eggs are 'blown' (a hole is made in both sides and the contents are blown out) and painted in lively colours. Then there are the famous 'egg rolling' contests where each participant chases their egg down a hill in a race to win. Young children often make 'Easter bonnets' out of colourful paper and contests are sometimes held to judge the most beautiful of these seasonal hats.

May Day (1 May) - This is an annual holiday as it is in Belgium, but in Britain it does not have the same significance as a festival of work.

Hallowe'en (31 October) - The Americans are not the only ones to celebrate All Hallows' Eve, the night before All Saints' Day. British children put on disguises and go round the neighbouring houses telling a joke or a poem or even singing a song in return for some sweets or nuts or even small amounts of money.

Guy Fawkes Day (5 November) - Guy Fawkes was the leader of an unsuccessful plot to blow up the houses of Parliament in 1605. This day is celebrated every year by fireworks displays and dummy Guys are burnt on bonfires just as he was burnt at the stake. Some children will make rather fantastic dummies and take them round the neighbourhood asking for 'a penny for the Guy'.

Christmas Day (25 December) - no change here, except that in the UK, all gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day as we haven't taken on the 6th of December (St. Nicholas) as a special gift-giving celebration for children.

Boxing Day (26 December) - Generally a public holiday. So-called because of the tradition of giving boxes of presents to the poor on that day.

Hogmanay / New Year's Eve (31 December) - The most interesting phenomenon here is 'Hogmanay', the Scottish name for and version of New Year's Eve. This festival is more important in North with festivities going on late into the night, and the public holidays that follow generally last one day longer.

Joanne O'Donnell