Friday, 22 May 2020

Bank Holiday capers


The government is apparently considering  creating a new Bank Holiday "sometime in October."  It's not clear whether this is to be a permanent one, or just for this year to compensate us for the ones we've had  but have not been able to enjoy to the full because of the lockdown.

Neither is it clear whether this is to be an additional holiday, or to replace one of those that  occur at this time of the year, when there are three: Easter Monday, the May Bank Holiday, and the Spring Bank Holiday.  

The Spring bank Holiday was originally a religious festival, Whitsuntide, coming forty days after Easter.  As Easter, and therefore Whitsun, moves backward and forwards according to the phases of the moon, and the churches were and still are unable to agree on a fixed date for Easter, the  Labour government under Harold Wilson decided to "fix" the Whitsun holiday to the last weekend in May and call it Spring Bank.  

For a while lots of wags called it Wilsontide.  That's what we're having this weekend.

The UK's May Bank Holiday was introduced by  a later Labour government to coincide with the international celebration of the 1st May as Labour Day, or Workers' Day, though they adopted the custom of celebrating it on the Monday following the nearest weekend rather than on the actual day itself.  

The hard right has always been suspicious of the "workers' day celebration", particularly  as it was introduced here  on the initiative of Michael Foot, then Employment Secretary, whom the right have always painted as a "dangerous lefty."

It is entirely possible that the motive  for introducing an October Bank Holiday is a Tory ruse to abolish the one that has a connection with Mayday.  Worse, I shouldn't be in the least bit surprised if some advocate that it should be 21st October, the anniversary of Nelson's victory over  the French at Trafalgar. (A petition in favour of this was launched during the 2010-15 government, was open for six months, and gained all of 48 signatures - but that was pre-Brexit)

Whether as replacement or a new one , I do hope we get a Bank Holiday in the autumn, and that we hold it on the  24th October, United Nations Day.  If there is a new mood in the country once the coronavirus is past its worst, then a day to celebrate the UN would be a positive signal that we have put surly chauvinism behind us and now recognise the importance of co-operation with others in building a better world.

12 comments:

  1. Four. Good Friday (or Easter Tuesday in some parts of the UK).

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  2. unable to agree on a fixed date for Easter

    They're not 'unable to agree', Easter moves because the events it commemorates happened at Passover, which is a date in a lunar calendar. It would make no sense for it to happen on a fixed date in a solar calendar.

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    1. For once we're in agreement: to separate Easter from the Passover would detach it from its roots. However, many people in the modern world don't like the "moveable feast." Schools,for example, find it inconvenient since the lengths of the Spring and Summer terms vary in inversely in length. (I suppose the same applies to the Law Terms, though I've no experience of those.) And the holiday industries probably find there's a dip in custom when Easter is early.

      There have been many proposals for fixing the date, to suite modern commerce and education rather than religious susceptibilities. According to Wikipedia modern proposals date from 1923, but the "Western" churches couldn't agree. The Eastern churches, of course use a quite different calendar. Personally I think the Churches should stick to their tradition. Oddly, this is probably the one date in the life of Jesus that is based on historical fact.

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    2. There have been many proposals for fixing the date, to suite modern commerce and education rather than religious susceptibilities. According to Wikipedia modern proposals date from 1923, but the "Western" churches couldn't agree.

      Ah, my misunderstanding; I thought you mean the Western churches were unable to agree among themselves on a date, rather than that the Western churches disagreed with the whole idea of fixing Easter (and good on them to for doing so: why should the Church arrange its calendar for the benefit of secular society?)


      Personally I think the Churches should stick to their tradition. Oddly, this is probably the one date in the life of Jesus that is based on historical fact.

      Um, they are all based on historical fact — Jesus was, as a matter of historical fact, born, so Christmas is based on that historical fact (although we almost certainly celebrate it at the wrong time of the year). Also the ascension, presuming we take that as historical fact. I assume you mean that it's the only one where we have enough evidence, direct and circumstantial, to have a good idea of pinning it down reasonably exactly (latest scholarship, I believe, places the crucifixion on the 3rd of April AD33).

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    3. Yes, I was careful to write that it is the only DATE we can be sure of, though I wouldn't go so far as to pinpoint it precisely to 3rd April - but around that time of the year.

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  3. October 21st.Yes a Victory where the hero (Johnson! Oops I mean Nelson) was killed then 'pickled' in a barrel. He was unable to enjoy his victory.
    October 24th a far more worthy date to celebrate

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  4. As for a date. It could be the Monday nearest the 24th.

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    1. In France commemoration days are on the actual date. For example Armistice Day is on 11th November, whenever it falls, rather than , as in the UK, the nearest Sunday. I've read somewhere that this change was made to suit the mill-owners and steel magnates, who didn't like the additional cost of damping down the boilers and furnaces during the week and them firing them up again. Now the British Legion are trying to get it back to the 11th, so we have two, and the effect is to diminish them both.

      I'd prefer that Mayday, Remembrance Day, and UN Day when when get it, be celebrated on the actual day. In France, if a jour férié happens to fall at the weekend, tough, though in the UK we'd probably demand the following Monday in lieu.

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  5. For example Armistice Day is on 11th November, whenever it falls, rather than , as in the UK, the nearest Sunday

    Armistice Day is still on the 11th of November in the UK. It started in 1919 and hasn't changed.

    The second Sunday in November is Remembrance Sunday, which is a different thing, and started after 1945 as the commemorations extended to include the military dead of both wars (and, later, of subsequent wars) so it made less sense to tie it so specifically to the date of the Armistice.

    The story about the mill-owners and magnates seems to make no sense on the face of it: why would you need to 'damp down the boilers and furnaces' for a two-minute silence at 11am? Where did you get this story from and have you any reason to believe it other than a general antipathy towards 'mill-owners and steel magnates'?

    Personally, as someone with a job, I prefer the bank holiday Monday rather than 'exact date' as it makes it a much more efficient use of holiday to take a long wekend than to have a useless extra Wednesday (say) off during which it is impossible to travel anywhere sensibly.

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    1. As I had understood it, November 11th was not just the day for the Two Minutes silence, but a public holiday all day as well. However, you're partly right: according to Google:"In Britain, beginning in 1939, the two-minute silence was moved to the Sunday nearest to 11 November in order not to interfere with wartime production should 11 November fall on a weekday.[12] This became Remembrance Sunday."

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  6. Any chance that we can drop the word "Bank" from the Holiday? What has it got to do with banks - unless perhaps they are granting the rest of us permission to have a break? Banks have been online at weekends and holidays for some tie now and my ATM transactions are promptly recorded at these times. Why don't we have simply have Public Holidays?
    Oh, St George's Day/ Shakespeare's birthday (April 23) would have been a nice choice except that it falls in the holidays already there for Easter and the Day off that's got nothing with a Workers' Mayday Parade.
    Also, it would be nice to celebrate events on the specific date they occurred and not always alight on the nearest Monday.

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    1. Good point. I suppose the ideas was that if you close down "commerce" then everything else follows. Apparently they've been called "Bank Holidays" since the Bank Holiday Act of 1871. Originally there were only four: Mayday, All Saints Day, Christmas Day and Good Friday. You're right that online banking transactions (and via ATMs) still happen during the "holiday." I've paid several bills over this weekend and note that the money disappears from my account within seconds. Whether the recipients get it "within two hours" as the screen says, I don't know. I shouldn't be at all surprised if the banks don't keep the money in their account until "normal business" resumes.

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