The Czech Republic
Public holidays – on these days people don´t go to work
Public holidays include for example:
1 May – Labour Day (an international workers´ day)
8 May – Liberation Day (the end of World War II)
5 July – Saints Cyril and Methodius Day (in 863, two Byzantine brothers came to Great Moravia to spread Christianity)
6 July – Jan Hus Day (commemorates the death of Jan Hus, a religious reformer, who was burned at the stake in 1415)
28 September – St Wenceslas Day (St Wenceslas is a patron saint of the Czech state, he was murdered on this day)
28 October – Independent Czechoslovak State Day (commemorates the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918)
17 November – Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day (commemorates the student demonstration against Nazi occupation in 1939, and the demonstration in 1989 which started the Velvet Revolution)
Easter is a Christian festival, it is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring. It is a movable feast, it doesn´t have any fixed date. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ. Easter symbols are the symbols of spring – a bunny, a lamb or a chicken.
The week before Easter is called Holy week which includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday is the day of the resurrection.
The customs include egg decorating and, especially in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a tradition of spanking on Easter Monday. In the morning, men spank women with a special handmade willow whip and pour cold water over them. The tradition says that women should be spanked in order to be healthy and fertile. Traditional pastry are Easter lambs and hot cross buns (mazance).
In America there is a tradition called Easter egg hunt – parents hide the Easter eggs in the house or garden and children have to find them. Every year, an Easter Egg Roll is held on the lawn of the White House. It´s a race where children push eggs with a long spoon.
In Britain, hot cross buns are very popular, it´s a kind of sweet bread with a white cross on the top. The cross symbolizes the crucifixion of Christ.
Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. In the Czech Republic it is mostly connected with family gathering and getting presents. It is celebrated on the 24th (Christmas Eve), 25th (Christmas Day) and 26th (Boxing Day) of December. During the advent a lot of Christmas markets are held. You can buy there a lot of presents and decorations, or see nativity scenes which represent the birth of Jesus and the pilgrims who brought him presents.
On Christmas Eve the family meets for a Christmas dinner (soup, fried carp and potato salad). After dinner they gather at the Christmas tree to unwrap the presents. The tradition says the presents are brought by Ježíšek (the Christkind).
Christmas traditions include singing the carols, baking Christmas sweets (cookies), decorating the tree with Christmas balls, sweets or sparklers, pouring the lead or cutting apples to see what the future holds for us.
January, the third Monday – Martin Luther King Day (it commemorates the birth of M.L.King, a chief leader of the civil rights movement in the USA)
4 July – Independence Day (celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence
May, last Monday – Memorial Day (it commemorates all Americans who have died during military service)
11 November – Veterans Day (honours all veterans of the United States armed forces. There is a moment of silence at 11 am to commemorate the armistice in 1918 which was set for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11the month and which ended WWI)
November, the fourth Thursday – Thanksgiving Day
Every fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the whole of the United States in order to commemorate the arrival of a small group of colonists to New Plymouth in America (1620).
They were called Pilgrim Fathers. Some of them were religious protestors who were discriminated in England, so they decided to escape and sail to America looking for a safer and more peaceful home. Some of them were people seeking economic opportunity.
They made a dangerous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in America in November. The area where they settled was called New England.
During the first winter, over half of them died. A friendly Indian taught them how to plant the corn and through him they were able to make peace with the neighbouring Indian tribes. Their lives and the existence of the colony depended on the coming harvest. Finally the fields produced a very rich harvest and the governor proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to Lord because they had survived. To thank the Indians for their help, the Pilgrims invited them to a feast. Later on the custom of giving thanks became a part of American tradition.
It is a day for the gathering of the family. The dinner consists of a roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet corn and other autumn vegetables and pumpkin pie.
Halloween is another popular festival in the USA. It is celebrated on 31 October. It is also known as All Hallows´Eve = the evening before All Saints’ Day (November 1).
Popular Halloween activities are trick-or-treating – children in costumes go from house to house and ask for “treats” (usually candy). If they don´t get the treat, they are ready to carry out a harmless “trick”, then carving pumpkins and making jack-o’-lanterns ( a carved pumpkin with a candle inside), going to costume parties or apple bobbing – a game when a bucket is filled with water and apples are put into it. Players then try to catch an apple with their teeth.
17 March – Saint Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated in Northern Ireland. It commemorates Saint Patrick (about AD 387–461), the best-known patron saint of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. One of Patrick´s teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Irish people. That is why people wear green colour on this day and paint a shamrock on their faces.
A Saturday in June – Queen´s Official Birthday. The Queen was born in April but her official birthday is celebrated in June in hope of better weather. On this day you can see a ceremony called Trooping the Colour (a military parade in Queen´s presence).
5 November – Guy Fawkes´ Day
This holiday commemorates the Gunpowder Plot which took place on 5 November 1605
On this day a group of Catholics tried to kill King James I (Protestant). They wanted to replace him by a Catholic ruler. Their plan was to blow up the Parliament. This plan was revealed,
however, and the conspirators were arrested. Guy Fawkes and his fellows were tried and
executed. To celebrate the fact that the King was not killed, people lit fires around London.
This later became a tradition known as Guy Fawkes Night.
Nowadays it is usually celebrated at big events, people light huge bonfires and watch firework shows.
11 November – Remembrance Day is a special day when we remember all those killed during the two major World Wars as well as other conflicts. Special services are held at war memorials and churches all over Britain. At the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London the Queen lays a wreath on behalf of the nation. The poppy is used as a symbol of remembrance because they grew naturally in the fields where much of the First World War fighting took place.
Christmas is celebrated on the 25 and 26 December. On 25 December – Christmas Day
people unwrap their presents. The presents are brought by Santa Clause (or Father Christmas) who visits people´s homes on his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Children leave a long stocking at the end of their bed or on a mantelpiece on Christmas Eve, hoping that Father Christmas will come down the chimney and bring them some small presents. A typical Christmas dinner is turkey. The turkey is
roasted and served with potatoes, vegetables, gravy, or cranberry sauce. The dessert is Christmas pudding. It is a sweet dish that contains raisins and candied fruit. It takes many hours to prepare. It is usually eaten with custard – sweet vanilla sauce.
After dinner people may pull a cracker, it makes a loud crack and a small toy or joke falls out.
After Christmas Day comes Boxing Day – 26 December. It originates from the word “box”. Earlier, servants received presents from their employers on this day (“Christmas boxes”). Nowadays it is an important day for sports events and the start of after-Christmas sales.
On New Year´s Eve (31 December) people gather and celebrate. At midnight they sing Auld Lang Syne, originally a poem written by Robert Burns, a Scottish poet, in 1788.