Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

The story behind our bank holidays

As we prepare for another bank holiday tomorrow, I was musing on the history of bank holidays. 

May Day may have its roots in ancient pagan rites of spring, but its place in the calendar as a bank holiday is fairly modern. It was the creation of Michael Foot in 1978. Britain was one of the last countries in Europe to celebrate May Day. It's a big deal in other countries. When I lived in Munich, I enjoyed the May Day revels in a town called Wolfratshauzen. Everyone dressed in leiderhausen and a good number of steins were consumed.

Bavaria has some of the most elaborate maypole traditions. Trees are cut down a day or two before the festival, stripped of bark and polished. Sometimes soap is added to make them extra slick. Men then race up these 40-foot poles to retrieve pretzels and sausages hanging from the top. The climbers can only apply ash, pinesap or tar to their hands to get a better grip.
Bavarian villagers also try to steal another town's maypole while protecting their own. If a maypole is stolen, it is held for ransom until the victimized village offers kegs of beer for its safe return.

Read more: Maypole Traditions in Germany | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_5445553_maypole-traditions-germany.html#ixzz1L5C0e8XX
Each village has its own community maypole which is decorated with icons signifying the history and main occupation of the region - for example brewing. The poles are fierecely guarded because if a neighbouring village "steals" your flagpole, the penalty is having to buy everyone a drink.

The future of our own May Day is looking doubtful. The government is considering scrapping the May Day Bank Holiday and creating a new public holiday in April or October.

The second bank holiday in May, now referred to as "Spring bank holiday", always used to be known as Whitsun when I was a child.
Whitsun, old English for "White Sunday", is the forty-ninth day (seventh Sunday) after Easter Sunday. In the Christian calendar, it is also known as Pentecost -commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.

A little-known fact about bank holidays is that there is a fixed number of them - six  in England plus the public holidays of Christmas and Boxing Day - and we don't have an automatic right to paid leave on these days. Any right to time off or extra pay for working on a bank holiday depends on the terms of your contract of employment. That's why small businesses tend to get quite annoyed when "new" bank holidays are granted, like the one on Friday for the Royal; Wedding, and everyone assumes it's another day off.

When the usual date of a bank or public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, a 'substitute day' is given, normally the following Monday. For example in 2009, Boxing Day was on Saturday, 26 December, so there was a substitute bank holiday on Monday, 28 December. This doesn't always happen in other countries. In Germany, they often have a bad year for public holidays when they all fall at the weekend. They don't then get a day off in lieu. Unusually bad organisation for the Germans!
Next year the late May bank holiday will be moved to Monday 4 June 2012 and an additional Jubilee bank holiday will be on Tuesday 5 June 2012.

1 comment

TrevorW­čÜ┤ said...

Hi Gail
Thanks for your recent visit and your comments at my blog at purpletraveller.blogspot.com

You have and interesting blog here...great postings.... so I have linked in as a follower.

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