Although Great Britain and the U.S. have the English language in common, they are two unique nations with different cultures, government systems, and traditions. Holidays and celebrations also vary between the two countries. Even Christmas and other Christian holidays, although celebrated by both countries, have some key differences.
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated by both Great Britain and the U.S. on December 31 and January 1 every year. According to ProjectBritain.com, it wasn't until 2000 that fireworks were used in Great Britain to celebrate the holiday, although this tradition has been long-established in the U.S. In the U.S., 10 seconds before midnight, a countdown from 10 to one takes place, and it's traditional to kiss loved ones at midnight. In Great Britain, at the stroke of midnight, it's traditional to open the back door, letting the old year out, and to ask the first dark-haired man who's spotted to bring salt, coal, and bread through the front door. These represent, respectively, money, warmth and food, meaning that the new year will bring a sufficient amount of these. In both countries, a New Year parade takes place on New Year's Day: the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California in the U.S. and the New Year's Day Parade in London, England, which starts when the famous Big Ben clock strikes noon.
The Christian holiday of Easter is celebrated by both Americans and British by decorating eggs, visits from the Easter bunny and egg hunts. Great Britain has additional, popular Easter customs, such as egg rolling: rolling hard-boiled eggs down hills in a competition.
The differences between American and British holidays is especially evident during the autumn, although both countries celebrate Halloween in the same way, by dressing up in costumes, bobbing for apples, and going trick-or-treating. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated in Great Britain. Americans observe this holiday with a great feast on the fourth Thursday of November. The British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, a plan by Guy Fawkes and others to blow up the Houses of Parliament to protest the fact that King James didn't change Queen Elizabeth I's anti-Catholic laws. Today the holiday is commemorated by fireworks and burning Guy Fawkes effigies on bonfires.
Christmas and Boxing Day
According to LearnEnglish.de, the British place less importance on Christmas Eve than other countries. Instead, they pay more attention to Christmas Day and Boxing Day. In both the U.S. and Britain, Santa or Father Christmas comes at night; American children leave milk and cookies for him, whereas British children leave mince pies and sherry or milk. Some traditional British Christmas Eve activities include singing Christmas carols, attending midnight church services, and going out to a pub. In the U.S., Christmas Eve is celebrated in many ways, such as by opening one present each, singing Christmas carols, attending midnight mass, or eating a special dinner. In both countries, Christmas Day is celebrated by opening presents in the morning and eating a turkey dinner, although other entrées are also popular in the U.S., such as crown roast. In Britain, it's traditional for Queen Elizabeth to broadcast a message on Christmas Day. Boxing Day, which is celebrated on December 26 in Britain, is the time to give gifts to friends, servants, and tradespeople. It has become a big shopping holiday in Britain, similar to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, in the U.S. Boxing Day isn't observed by Americans.
- Learn English: Christmas Celebrations in the UK
- Project Britain: History of the Gunpowder Plot & Guy Fawkes Night
- Project Britain: So Why Do We Do What We Do on Halloween Day in England?
- Woodlands Junior School: Why Do We Have Eggs at Easter?
- Project Britain: British Special Days January 2010 Holidays in the UK
- Learn English: Happy New Year!