Monday, May 26, 2008

It's a UK holiday but why?

I think that IF people get the day off from work in commemoration of a national holiday, they should know WHY...after all, there surely must be a reason it is important enough to shut down businesses for that day and give workers an extra day of R&R.

Yes, today, May 26th, is known as a "bank holiday" in the UK. First, I was not familiar with the term - sure, I surmised that the banks were closed but could I find out anything more about the significance of this day and why we all received the benefit of a three day weekend?

A quick poll of the office, pondering the question, "Why is May 26th a UK holiday?" quickly resulted in, well, no new insights. None of the Brits in my office could answer the question. Responses ranged from "Well, hmmm...let me think about that for a minute" to "I am sure it was historically based on some religious holiday" to "You know, that is a good question. I don't know". OK, thanks...moving on.

True to form, my next search took me to the place all knowing...the web. First, apparently no one refes to the holiday by its name. "Today's is Memorial Day" or "Today is Chinese New Year" or "Today is Ascension Day". Apparently, the date means nothing, but rather it is the last Monday in May that results in this UK holiday each year.

Secondly, let's define the term. Definition number 1:

Bank holiday - any of several weekdays when banks are closed; a legal holiday in Britain. A legal holiday, national holiday, public holiday authorized by law and limiting work or official business.

Which is not terribly helpful since restaurants, retailers, movie theaters, etc. are all open, albeit with reduced hours.

Maybe definition number 2 is more enlightening:

A bank holiday is a public holiday in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland. Although there is no legal right to time off on these days, the majority of the population not employed in essential services (e.g. utilities, fire, ambulance, police, health-care workers) receive them as holidays; those employed in essential services usually receive extra pay for working on these days. Bank holidays are so called because they are days upon which banks are shut and therefore (traditionally) no other businesses could operate. Legislation allows certain payments to be deferred to the next working day.

OK, did not learn anything really new there either. Moving on to my next source, I learned the following:

Prior to 1834, the Bank of England observed about thirty-three saints' days and religious festivals as holidays, but in 1834, this was reduced to just four: 1 May, 1November, Good Friday, and Christmas Day.

In 1871, the first legislation relating to bank holidays was passed when Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act 1871 which specified certain days as bank holidays. Sir John was an enthusiastic supporter of cricket and was firmly of the belief that bank employees should have the opportunity to participate in and attend matches when they were scheduled. Included in the dates of bank holidays are therefore dates when cricket games were traditionally played between the villages in the region where Sir John was raised.

Exactly a century after the 1871 Act, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which currently regulates bank holidays in the UK, was passed which included the last Monday in May as the "Spring Bank Holiday". Royal proclamation is also used to shift bank holidays that would otherwise fall on a weekend. In this way, public holidays are not 'lost' in years when they coincide with weekends.

OK, really interesting but I have yet to learn WHY the last Monday in May is a bank holiday in the UK. (BTW - the bank holidays vary between England, Ireland, and Scotland - of course, they do! That is a topic for another day). And although I searched in vain for the next hour or so, nothing else was definitively learned.

So, am I to celebrate the day as nothing more than a spring holiday at the end of May? That's it? After an hour or so of looking on the WWW, I have been able to cobble only a small explanation together. Whether it is the definitive answer, I can't be sure. I am in good company since none of the locals really know either.

All further insights would be welcomed...for now, I am calling off the search and enjoying what is left of my "spring bank holiday in May".

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