Anniversaries, Birthdays And Holy Days

I have mentioned that during the first few years of our lives we believe that we are the centre of the Universe and everything revolves around us. As we get older, most of us realise that there are in fact others around and we ought to interact with at least some of them! As I got older I soon learned about a few delightful occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and a few other regular events like getting Easter eggs and Pancake Day. So of course I enjoyed receiving gifts and I began to look forward to those occasions. As part of me growing up and learning, I was taught how to find out things for myself. My parents knew they wouldn’t always be around, so I was taught to learn. It might seem strange, but I don’t think we all naturally just learn. I have said before how someone I knew was in an adult learning class and they simply needed a little bit of extra coaching and thankfully I was able to assist them. I didn’t tell them, I just guided their thoughts. Just as mine have been in the past and still are today. It really is true to say that we don’t know what we don’t know! My dad had a lovely book called the Pears Cyclopaedia and I would often sit, read and learn from it. Sadly it is no longer in print but there are still old copies available through the Internet. But the Internet is where we often go now, to find out, in fact the phrase ‘let’s Google that’ is now recognised terminology. Though I still like books! For me that encyclopaedia had almost too much information in it and I did not want to fill my mind with information that I might not need, so I tried to know the basic information and more especially where to get the detail if I needed to. Sadly there is also some disinformation available, but this should not be a surprise to us as that has been the way of people for many centuries. It ought not to be, but there are some who will alter the facts to suit their own ends. So it was that I learned much about calendars, annual events and anniversaries as so much has occurred that has shaped all our lives. Nowadays I like to watch the different quiz shows on television, but it does seem that some contestants have filled their minds with a great deal of historical information and I marvel at their instant recall. It takes all sorts! We should not forget our past though. There have been so many things which have occurred during recorded history and I am sure there are countless memorable ones which have sadly been lost in the mists of time. That is why I am glad we do keep a good record of events, so that we have the chance or at the very least the opportunity to learn from what has gone before. Though sadly there are those who never seem to ever learn, or even try to.

So we have regular events like festivals, both religious and non-religious, local and national ones involving various sports which some like more than others. There are birthdays, wedding anniversaries, I also believe that it is good to include obituaries as it is sometimes easy to forget folk when they have sadly passed away. We should surely remember them for the good times, though I know there are some folk who we may recall with perhaps a little less fondness than others! It will depend on the background of each of us, our family’s history and upbringing, ancestry as well as perhaps our religion that may determine what events we remember most from the past. I try to at least appreciate why my paternal grandfather had nothing good to say about Germans, with him having been in a concentration camp in World War I. Likewise those folk with other ancestry may have a few mixed feelings and it is perhaps difficult to separate their personal feelings towards a country whose leaders behaved so abominably all those years ago. But we should perhaps remember that some people from this country did not always treat people in other countries too well. Throughout history, whether it was Hannibal and his elephants, Gunpowder Plot, French Revolution, Spanish Inquisition, India’s independence, transport of slaves, sending prisoners to a new life in Australia to name but a few, the list is endless. That is why I liked that encyclopaedia, because it laid out events in a neat, chronological order. It also gave details of famous people. Sport plays a big part in every country and right now there are quite a few regular sporting events on the calendar here. I will admit that whilst I’m not a big fan of tennis or football, I do follow Formula One motor racing. Also that overlaps quite well with the American Football season, which means I should be happy. So far as anniversaries are concerned there are always some to recall, as American Independence was declared on July 4th 1776, whilst on the same date in 1954 fourteen years of food rationing in Britain ended and in 2020 I was moved to this Care Home. Also in July 1969 I left school to start work at Post Office Telephones in Peterborough, having failed a computer aptitude test with a firm in the same city. What I find ironic is that many years later I was running my own business, teaching folk how to use computers! Things do have a habit of working out if we have faith. As well as the many religious festivals which are commemorated by different countries on various dates throughout the year, there are also other ‘holidays’ for us to observe. The first meaning of the word holiday in the Oxford English Dictionary is “A consecrated day, a religious festival, (usually written holy day)”. The definition takes its origin from the observance of religious festivals and saint’s days. The second meaning is “A day on which ordinary occupations (of an individual or a community) are suspended; a day of exemption or cessation from work; a day of festivity, recreation, or amusement”. The page from the British Almanac of 1833 shows the large number of holidays kept at the Bank of England and the Exchequer, and other public offices. These holidays were to celebrate various Royal events, Christian festivals and Saint’s days, it even included a commemoration of when the Great Fire of London began on September 2nd 1666 in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane.

The tradition of local holidays became even stronger after the industrial revolution when factories in a town would close down, and the whole workforce was then able to go on holiday. For the owners this made economic sense as they saved on the running costs for the time of the closure, and there was no loss of productivity during the rest of the year as the whole workforce was absent at the same time. In northern England and Scotland, and particularly in the mill towns and villages of Lancashire, these holidays were called Wakes weeks and were originally religious celebrations or feasts, held on the saint’s day of the local church, when the rushes that acted as a carpet in the church were renewed. This evolved into a local holiday and celebration when families were reunited, and travelling fairs came to visit. In Scotland each city had its trades fortnight when the tradespeople took their holidays. In Glasgow this coincided with the Glasgow Fair, an annual event, held since the late 12th century when the Bishop of Glasgow was granted the right to hold an annual fair by King William I. This long established event became Fair Fortnight after the Second World War and is still going strong in the 21st century. An article from the Glasgow Herald of 12 July 1844 says the following: ‘The annual period “when toil remitting lends its turn to play” has again come around, and Glasgow Fair, according to the want of bygone centuries, has been officially proclaimed by the Magistrates, and is now in full course.’ With the decline in manufacturing, the standardisation of school holidays and the increase in paid holidays for employees these local holidays have died out. However, some organisations such as universities close down between Christmas and New Year and magazine publishers often publish double or triple issues so that staff may have a break over the festive period.

A New Year Resolution

Here in the UK we owe our statutory bank holidays to Sir John Lubbock, first Baron of Avebury, a scientific writer, banker and politician who studied ants. He also tried to teach his poodle to read. In 1871, he drafted the Bank Holiday Bill. So statutory bank holidays were introduced by the 1871 Bank Holiday Act and were days when the Bank of England and banks could close. The Act made provision for no financial dealing to occur on that day and bills or promissory notes that were due on that day were not payable until the following day and did not incur any penalties. Before this time banks were unable to close on weekdays as to do so would have put them at the risk of bankruptcy. But once the act was on the statute books, bank staff were able to have fixed holidays. Other employees had more informal arrangements with their employers and took their holidays to fit around the business and trade. The first bank holidays were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day, in England, Wales and Ireland. In Scotland they were New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day. Confusingly there were also public holidays, which are common law holidays that came about through habit and custom, these were Christmas Day and Good Friday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Today, the terms public and bank holiday have become interchangeable.

In addition to these, there are also the Movable Feasts. These are holidays which fall according to astronomical events rather than being at a fixed point in the year. Easter is the first weekend after the full moon which occurs on or after the 21 March (often this is the Vernal equinox). Whit Monday was created as a bank holiday in the 1871 Act and follows Whitsun Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. Whitsuntide was always a popular holiday as it marked the beginning of the summer. Philip Larkin’s poem the Whitsun Weddings celebrates this as he describes a train journey to London and the weddings and holiday activities he saw. Then Whit Monday was replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday in the 1971 Act and is now always the last Monday in May. Initially, the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 allowed for the closure of banks and other financial institutions, but as time has gone on businesses, local & central government, schools, colleges and universities have also chosen to close. Shops too, but not as much nowadays except for Christmas Day. There is no statutory obligation for them to do so, just as there is no statutory right to have time off on a bank holiday; it is all dependent on what is in an employee’s contract of employment. In 1971, a hundred years after Lubbock’s Bank Holiday Act was passed, the original Act was repealed and incorporated into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 which also created some new bank holidays. Under the 1971 Act and subject to a Royal Proclamation, special days can be appointed as bank holidays (either additional to or in place of bank holidays which fall on a Saturday or Sunday). Additional bank holidays have included the Millennium bank holiday on 31 December 1999. There have also been previous Jubilee celebrations, but the only Diamond Jubilee celebration for any of Elizabeth’s predecessors was in 1897, for the 60th anniversary of the 1837 accession of Queen Victoria. Monday 3 June 2002 marked the Golden Jubilee bank holiday, then 2012 marked the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II and the next one is the Platinum Jubilee which is expected to be marked in 2022 in both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, it being the 70th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952.

This week… NE1 for tennis?
With it being Wimbledon Fortnight and there being so much tennis coverage, a friend has jokingly suggested on Facebook that the postal code for Wimbledon ought to be NE1, rather than SW19. In fact NE was first created as part of the London postal district in 1858 and covered North East London, but the Post Office closed the NE district in 1867 and the E district absorbed its residents. However, fearing a backlash, the Post Office didn’t actually tell the residents that their new postcode was E and people still addressed letters to NE. The only change was that NE letters were sorted along with E letters on arriving at the Post Office. Then in 1869, NE-ers were finally told about the change, and they weren’t happy, in fact many simply rejected it. In 1897 a doctor led a group of Hackney businessmen in petitioning to bring back the NE district, simply because they objected to being identified as ‘eastern’. They claimed that being associated with East London was harming their businesses. So it’s not just today that certain postcodes have social, cultural, even financial implications. The street signs in the area displaying NE were kept up and the NE initials were used for addressing letters and for street signs until 1917. Then between 1967 and 1970 there was a major rollout of new postal codes by the Post Office to major centres, with Newcastle upon Tyne taking NE, other areas being Aberdeen, Belfast, Brighton, Bristol, Bromley, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Newport, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and the Western district of London.

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