May day and other British quirks


I tore a page out of a magazine with a list of British traditions so that I could share them with you and in the spirit of cutting down on paper clutter I thought I'd better share them so I can hurry up and throw the paper in the recycling bin!

May day (1st May)
It was born out of the pagan festival of Beltane (Bel being the Celtic god of the sun), which celebrated the start of spring and fertility at the start of May. Some experts believe May Day dates back to the 1400s, but it wasn't until 1978 that the bank holiday (on the nearest Monday to 1st May) was created, by Prime Minister James Callaghan.


Why is someone said to be "as mad as a hatter"?
In the 1800s, mercury was used in the making of hats, and hat makers would inhale fumes in the poorly ventilated workshops. The side effects of this exposure included mood swings, hallucinations, slurred speech and the shakes - making workers appear deranged. Mercury poisoning is still referred to as "mad hatter disease".

Does the Queen really own all the UKs swans?
The Queen's ownership of this one-time delicacy dates back to the 12th century. But it's only unmarked (without a nick in their beaks) mute swans in England and Wales that belong to the monarch. The rest are privately owned, some by the city company Vintner, whose spokesman Michael Smythe says, "The monarch needed a supply of swans for banquets. It was a royal bird and a delicacy. Only the sovereign can give permission to cull swans for feasting."


Why do the British love a Sunday roast?
This traditional dish dates back to medieval times when the lord gave it as a reward to the village serfs who'd been working hard on his land throughout the week, after the church service. They'd assemble on Sunday's in a field, practise their battle techniques and be presented with a feast of roast beef on a spit, making it a much-anticipated meal.

Where does the stiff upper lip come from?
This phrase is thought to have originated during the Crimean War when impressive 19th Century moustaches were grown by officers and soldiers to cover up any unseemly lip quivering, to show they remained unwavering, even in the face of adversity.

Why do we have April Fool's day?
This is a tradition we can trace back to our neighbours across the Channel. In France in 1582, the traditional New Year week from 25th March to 1st April was changed and moved to become New Year's Day on 1st January. But many people in the countryside only heard of the change years later. They refused to acknowledge it, and continued to celebrate on 1st April. These people became the butt of jokes, were invited to fake parties and were deemed "fools". We Brits then adopted this day in the 18th century.

Why does the Queen have two birthdays?
The Queen was born on 21st April but practicality lies behind her "official" birthday on the second Saturday of June. Since 1748, monarchs have been given summer birthdays so Trooping the Colour can take place in good weather. A Buckingham Palace spokesman explains, "King Edward VII, for example was born on 9th November, but his official birthday was marked in May or June".
(Lucky thing, two birthdays!!)


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  1. Well I knew about the hatters, but the fact that you guys get today off seems rather unfair...Then again, I don't get "days off" anyway so I suppose it doesn't matter. ;D

  2. I must have royal blood in me because I also have two birthdays. LOL

  3. It's the first Monday in May that is our holiday, so the public holiday is next Monday (6th), giving us a long weekend.

    We also have a Spring Bank Holiday at the end of May. Then, our next holiday isn't until the very end of August.

    We get eight public holidays a year, which I think is pretty similar to the US, but we don't have Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Memorial Day or Independence Day.

  4. This is so fun! We definitely hear stories of the Queen over here in the U.S.A., but I had never heard about the swans before. :)

  5. Wow I didn't know any of that stuff! :O
    Can remember doing the maypole at primary school for the summer fete...supposedly so simple but the guy next to me kept on screwing up, agh! Nightmaaare lol

  6. Fun facts, Samantha! But I don't like it that the Queen eats the swans. I gasped when I saw the word 'feasting.' NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Poor birds.

    I grew up with many Sunday dinners involving roast beef. We lived on a dairy farm and had a freezer full of beef. Do kids still do the Maypole dance? They did here when I was in probably 2nd grade, but not since then (an eon ago).


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