By Jamie Hepburn
As October rolls on, the UK approaches the start of its bustling, festive season. The leaves turn to orange and fall from the trees. The nights begin to draw in and it becomes harder to get up in the morning as the temperature drops and the sunrise gets later and later each day. However, despite the many negatives that a UK winter has, the festivities and celebrations make it a fantastic time to visit the windy, cold island of Britain.
The first celebration marked on the calendar is also the spookiest! Lovers of horror venture out into the night and pumpkins can be seen decorating people’s windows & doorsteps. Of course I am talking about Halloween, the day of ghosts and ghouls. Or Hallow’s Eve, as it was once known.
In the United Kingdom, Halloween has an interesting & historical past. Like many modern day celebrations, Halloween is believed to have originated from Pagen traditions. In Scotland & Ireland, Pagans were known to celebrate the end of the Harvest Season on the 31st of October, whilst simultaneously embracing the beginning of Winter. In Gaelic this particular festival was called, “Samhain”, and it is here where many of today’s Halloween traditions can be linked back to.
People believed that the shifting of the seasons from light into dark, meant that spirits and fairies were better connected to our world, and could return for this one day in the year. People would leave offerings of food and drink outside their doors to appease these spirits, as they were both respected and feared by our forefathers.
Household festivities would often revolve around fortunetelling, dream-interpretation and other spooky activities that can be linked to today’s version of Halloween. Families and communities would light bonfires to protect themselves from the spirits and as time went on people would dress themselves in costumes that resembled the dead and the residents of the underworld.
Over the years these traditions shifted slightly and the food that was once left for the spirits was given to the poorer children and families within the town. However, it would not come to them for free! The children would go to the dwellings of the rich folks to sing hymns and pray for the souls of the dead. In return, they would receive what were known as “Soul Cakes”. What the Americans call, “Trick-or-Treating” was once named, “Souling”, due to this practice In Scotland & Ireland the term “Guising” grew popular, and it is still the term that is most commonly used today!
Just 5 short days after Halloween, the UK celebrates another intriguing festival. On the 5th of November we celebrate “Guy Fawkes Night” by lighting bonfires, waving sparklers and watching fireworks light up the night sky. Unlike Halloween, this is a celebration that is unique to the UK!
It derives from the famous story of Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up The Houses Parliament on the 5th of November, 1605. If you’ve ever watched the film, “V for Vendetta” you might recognise some similarities in the story line!
The story of Guy Fawkes, like many others around the world, starts with a religious conflict. A band of English Catholics devised a plan to assassinate the Protestant King, James 1st of England. Their plan of placing explosives under the House of Lords came mighty close to achieving its goal, but before they had a chance to set off their make-shift bomb, Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the hidden explosives.
The public celebrated their King’s survival by lighting bonfires around the country, and henceforth Guy Fawkes night was born – although it only became known by this name over a century later!
Today, it is more colloquially known as Bonfire Night and there is always a host of firework shows that take place up and down the country!. Make sure you get wrapped up and take a hot drink with you if you ever get a chance to attend, as it’s guaranteed to be cold. However, it’s certainly a worthwhile experience due to the special atmosphere the night creates!
As the festivities of Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night cease, the UK gears up for Christmas. Decorations go up, Christmas lights are turned on and the Christmas songs start playing on the radio and in the shops.
Although December is a cold and dark time in the United Kingdom, Christmas adds a certain magic to the season. The pubs are crammed and Winter Wonderlands pop up across UK cities. Activities including ice skating, mulled wine making and of course, shopping, are in full swing. Turkeys, brussel sprouts, parsnips and tatties fill the supermarket shelves and there’s a certain atmosphere in the air as the big day approaches.
A day for families to spend time together across the country, Christmas in the UK is a very traditional holiday that everyone, or at least most people, love! Young or old, there’s a special place in British hearts for the most famous of Festive Celebrations.