The UK’s “Christian” holiday calendar

As part of the “the UK is/isn’t a Christian country” narrative, earlier this week the BBC published an article listing “Eight arguments about whether the UK is a Christian country“.

The dates of our holidays were listed in the “for” column:

For: The calendar

A glance at the way national holidays are structured – not to mention the working week – demonstrates the continued influence of Christianity, says Rees.

The major holidays around Christmas and Easter are there for the Christian festivals and events,” she says. Despite occasional warnings about a “war on Christmas”, both festivals are widely celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike.

This has always seemed a rather weak argument when you look at the influence that older religions have had on how Easter in particular is celebrated. Here is a complete list of the bank holidays in England and Wales:

  • 1st January – Originally based on the Roman celebration of Janus, on which the Julian (And thus Gregorian) calendar is based. Some association with the Christian “Feast of the Circumcision of Christ”.
  • Good Friday/Easter Monday – At least in name is based on the original pagan Ä’ostre festival. Edit: Although I was aware the bunnies/eggs link is recent, it appears by disclaimer about “at least in name” is not sufficient – see this blog post for more information on the history of the name
  • .

  • May Day (First Monday in May) – An old pagan fertility festival, whose rites (Such as dancing around the maypole) are still practiced today
  • Spring Bank Holiday (Last Monday in May) – The only totally Christian holiday by date in the calendar, although ceased to be known as Whitsun until 1971.
  • August Bank Holiday – No religious significance.
  • Christmas Day/Boxing Day – Also the old pagan Saturnalia/Yuletide festival.

So that’s 1 completely non-religious holiday, 5 days that are jointly Roman/Pagan as well as Christian and one each that can be claimed solely as Pagan/Christian. There are other celebrations that do not have holidays associated with them in England and Wales too – Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve/Samhain) is a common one celebrated as a Christian holiday in some parts of Europe, but that retains some of it’s pagan ritual.

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