If you try to catch a train on 24th of December you may have difficulty in finding a seat. This is the day when many people are traveling home to be with their families on Christmas Day, 25th December. For most British families, this is the most important festival of the year, it combines the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ with the traditional festivities of winter.
On the Sunday before Christmas many churches hold a carol1 service where special hymns are sung. Sometimes carol-singers can be heard on the streets as they collect money for charity2. People are reminded of Charles Dickens' story 'Christmas Carol'. Most families decorate their houses with brightly-colored paper or holly3, and they usually have a Christmas tree4 in the corner of the front room, glittering with colored lights and decorations.
There are a lot of traditions connected with Christmas but perhaps the most important one is the giving of presents. Family members wrap up their gifts and leave them at the bottom of the Christmas tree to be found on Christmas morning. Children leave a long sock or stocking at the end of their beds on Christmas Eve, 24th December, hoping that Father Christmas5 will come down the chimney during the night and bring them small presents, fruit and nuts. They are usually not disappointed! At some time on Christmas Day the family will sit down to a big turkey dinner followed by Christmas pudding6. They will probably pull a cracker7 with another member of the family. It will make a loud crack and a coloured hat, small toy and joke will fall out!
Later in the afternoon they may watch the Queen on television as she delivers her traditional Christmas message to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. If they have room for even more food they may enjoy a piece of Christmas cake or eat a hot mince pie8. 26th December is also a public holiday, Boxing Day, and this is the time to visit friends and relatives or watch football.
ST. Valentine’s Dayis considered a friend and patron of lovers. For centuries St. Valentine’s Day, February 14th , has been a day for choosing sweethearts and exchanging Valentine cards.
Ghosts and Witches Hallowe'en means 'holy evening', and takes place, on 31st October. Although it is a much more important festival* in the United States than Britain, it is celebrated by many! people in the UK. It is particularly connected with witches^ and ghosts.
At parties people dress up in strange costumes and pretend they are witches. They cut horrible faces in potatoes and other vegetables and put a candle inside, which shines through the eyes. People may play difficult games such as trying to eat an apple from a bucket of water without using their hands..
In recent years children dressed in white sheets knock on doors at Hallowe'en and ask if you would like a 'trick' or a 'treat'2. If you give them something nice, a 'treat', they go away. However, if you don't, they play a 'trick' on you, such as making a lot of noise or spilling flour on your front doorstep!
Guy Fawkes' Night. In 1605 King James I was on the throne. As a Protestant, he was very unpopular with Roman Catholics. Some of them planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November of that year, when the King was going to open Parliament. Under the House of Lords they stored thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, which were to be exploded by a man called Guy Fawkes. However, one of the plotters spoke about these plans and Fawkes was discovered, arrested and later hanged. Since that day the English traditionally celebrate 5th November by burning a dummy, made of straw and old clothes, on a bonfire, at the same time letting off fireworks.
This dummy is called a 'guy' (like Guy Fawkes) and children can often be seen on the pavements before 5th November saying, 'Penny for the guy'. If they collect enough money they can buy some fireworks.
Newspapers.In Britain there are 11 national daily newspapers most people read one of them every day. Daily newspapers are published on every day of the week except Sunday. Sunday newspapers are larger than daily newspapers. All the Sunday newspapers are national. Most national newspapers in Britain express a political opinion, most of them right-wing, and people choose the newspaper that they read according to their own political beliefs.
Fleet Street in London used to be the home of most national daily and Sunday newspapers and that is why people often say 'Fleet Street' to mean 'the press’ even now.
British newspapers can be divided into two groups: quality and popular. Quality newspapers are more serious and cover home and foreign news while popular newspapers like shocking, personal stories. These two groups of papers can be distinguished easily because the quality newspapers are twice the size of the popular newspapers. The quality daily papers are 'The Times', 'The Guardian', 'Daily Telegraph' and 'The Financial Times'. 'The Times', founded in 1785, is considered to be the most authoritative newspaper voice in the country and is said to be the paper of the Establishment. The ‘Guardian' appeals to well-educated readers interested in intellectual and social affairs. The 'Daily Telegraph’ is bought by educated upper middle and middle-class readers. 'The Financial Times', printed on pink papers, is read by businessmen. The 'popular' press consists of the 'Daily Mail’, the 'Daily Express', the 'Daily Star’ and the 'Sun'. In all newspapers there is a desperate fight to maintain or improve their circulations but it is worst among the 'popular’ papers whose main weapons are sex, scandal and sport. Apart from London-based papers, there are many local newspapers. Most of these are evening papers (there is only one London evening paper) and many appear weekly.
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