A Brief History of the Spring Bank Holiday (UK)
The Spring Bank Holiday is one of eight public holidays in the UK. It almost always falls on the last Monday in May. While most organisations, businesses, and schools are closed for the day, public transport usually functions as normal. But why do we have the Spring Bank Holiday at all?
The Spring Bank Holiday first came into being in the UK for a trial period between 1965 and 1970. It replaced the public holiday known as Whitsun or Whit Monday. However, Whit Monday always falls on the day after Pentecost (Whit Sunday) and is thus tied to the timing of Easter. The UK government decided it would be better to have a fixed bank holiday. Under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971, the holiday was officially fixed as the last Monday in May.
Pentecost and Whit Sunday
However, Whit Sunday is still commemorated by all denominations of the church. The day marks the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s disciples. The original name for Whit was Pentecost, which is derived from Greek, translating as the fiftieth day. This is in reference to the ancient Feast of Pentecost which always fell fifty days after Easter Sunday.
It’s known that Pentecost has been observed by Christians since the first century. During Medieval times, the week following Whit Sunday was known as Whitsuntide and a traditional holiday for farmworkers. Over time, Pentecost Sunday became more familiarly known as White Sunday. This was in reference to the white gowns worn by those who were to be baptized on the day. Eventually, White Sunday became known as Whit Sunday.
Whit Monday is better known in many countries as Pentecost Monday. The day is celebrated by Christians around the world directly after the day of Pentecost. The actual date of the holiday, as mentioned, is determined by the date on which Easter falls. In more recent times, Whit Monday’s status as a public holiday has changed in many countries. For instance, as with the UK, it’s no longer a public holiday in many of the former British colonies.
The UK’s Spring Bank Holiday is perhaps no longer the festive occasion that ‘Whit’ used to be. It was common during Whit Sunday to see church parades, brass bands, and choirs mark the special day. However, the traditional madcap events such as cheese rolling, bed races, woolsack races, etc., that used to take place during the Whit holidays, now usually take place on the Spring Bank Holiday.
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