Free Resources for Students and Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in China - by Paul Sparks

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Paul Sparks, Online Business English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for Grade 1 English Conversation Lessons at Xiangtan Normal University...





Lesson Objectives
The objectives of this lesson are to make students aware of the holidays and festivals in the UK and to generate discussion about the various celebrations in the UK and in China.


Lesson Activities
Open discussion about holidays and festivals in China and the UK.



Guy Fawkes' Day

Valentine's Day 


British Holidays
Many of the holidays in the UK are religious holidays, such as Christmas or Easter. There are also other celebrations, such as Guy Fawkes Night, which celebrates the night when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. National Holidays in the UK are known as "Bank Holidays."


The following are holidays throughout the United Kingdom:


Fixed Public Holidays

  • 1st January New Year's Day 

  • 2nd January Bank Holiday (Scotland only) 

  • 17th March St Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland only) 

  • The First Monday in May, May Day Bank Holiday 

  • The Last Monday in May Bank Holiday 

  • 12th July Battle of the Boyne Day (Northern Ireland only) 

  • The First Monday in August Summer Bank Holiday (Scotland only)

  • Last Monday in August Summer Bank Holiday (except Scotland) 

  • 25th December Christmas Day 

  • 26th December Boxing Day (St Stephen's Day for Roman Catholics)

Holidays falling on a weekend are celebrated on the Monday following. If two consecutive holidays fall on a Saturday and Sunday, they are observed on the Monday and Tuesday following. Scottish clearing banks observe the British, not the Scottish Bank Holidays.

There will be an extra day's holiday on Monday June 3rd, 2002 to mark HM Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee (50th year of accession to the throne). The bank holiday normally held one week earlier will be held on June 4th.


Moveable Public Holidays

  • Good Friday (Either - 28th Mar, 10th Apr, 2nd Apr, 21st Apr, 13th Apr, 29th Mar, 18th Apr, 9th Apr) 

  • Easter (Either - 30th Mar, 12th Apr, 4th Apr, 23th Apr, 15th Apr, 31st Mar, 20th Apr, 11th Apr)

  • Easter Monday (Either - 31st Mar, 13th Apr, 5th Apr, 24th Apr, 16th Apr, 1st Apr, 21st Apr, 12th Apr)


Festivals and Celebrations

  • 27th January WWII Genocide Memorial Day (from 2001) 

  • 14th February Valentine's Day 

  • 1st March St. David's Day (Patron Saint of Wales) 

  • Second Monday in March Commonwealth Day 

  • 1st April, April Fool's Day 

  • 23rd April St. George's Day (Patron Saint of England) 

  • Third Sunday in June Fathers' Day 

  • 31st October Halloween 

  • 5th November Guy Fawkes' Day 

  • 11th November Remembrance Day (2 minutes silence at 11 a.m.) 

  • 30th November St. Andrew's Day (Patron Saint of Scotland) 

  • Shrove Tuesday

  • Pancake Day - Either 11th Feb, 24th Feb, 16th Feb, 7th Mar, 27th Feb, 12th Feb, 4th Mar 24th Feb 

  • Mothering Sunday - Either 9th Mar, 22nd Mar, 14th Mar, 2nd Apr, 25th Mar, 10th Mar, 30th Mar, 21st Mar


Christmas is celebrated throughout the whole of the UK. People decorate their houses with Christmas trees, streamers and pictures of "Santa."  Christmas is commonly known as "Xmas" and is a period when schools are closed for 2 - 3 weeks. People exchange presents on Christmas Day, 25th December. A large Christmas Dinner is traditional, which includes eating a Turkey. People also send each other Christmas cards. Due to the weather in the UK, Christmas is normally a cold time of year, and there is commonly snow around Christmas time. Christmas is full of tradition!

The word Christmas comes from the words "Cristes maesse", or "Christ's Mass." Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus for members of the Christian religion. Most historians peg the first celebration of Christmas to Rome in 336 A.D. 

Why does everyone give each other presents on Christmas day?
The tradition of gifts seems to have started with the gifts that the wise men (the Magi) brought to Jesus. As recounted in the Bible's book of Matthew, "On coming to the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." However, no one was really in the habit of exchanging elaborate gifts until late in the 1800s. The Santa Claus story (described below) combined with an amazing retailing phenomenon that has grown since the turn of the century has made gift giving a central focus of the Christmas tradition. 

Is December 25th really the day Jesus was born?
No one really knows. What is known is that Christian leaders in 336 A.D. set the date to December 25 in an attempt to eclipse a popular pagan holiday in Rome (Saturnalia) celebrating the winter solstice. Originally, the celebration of Christmas involved a simple mass, but over time Christmas has replaced a number of other holidays in many other countries, and a large number of traditions have been absorbed into the celebration in the process. 

Why is there a small evergreen tree in your living room?
This is a German tradition, started as early as 700 A.D. In the 1800s the tradition of a Christmas tree was widespread in Germany, then moved to England and then America through Pennsylvanian German immigrants. In Victorian times, people had already started decorating trees with candies and cakes hung with ribbon. In 1880 "Woolworths" department store first sold manufactured Christmas tree ornaments, and they caught on very quickly. Martin Luther, in the 16th century, is credited as being the first person to put candles on a tree, and the first electrically lighted Christmas tree appeared in 1882. Calvin Coolidge in 1923 ceremoniously lit the first outdoor tree at the White House, starting that long tradition.

Mistletoe has apparently been used as a decoration in houses for thousands of years and is also associated with many pagan rituals. Many years ago, the church forbade the use of mistletoe in any form. As a substitute, it suggested holly. The sharply pointed leaves were to symbolize the thorns in Christ's crown and the red berries drops of his blood. Holly became a nativity tradition. The Christian ban on mistletoe was in effect throughout the Middle Ages. Surprisingly, as late as the 20th century, there were churches in England that forbade the wearing of mistletoe sprigs and corsages during services." For Scandinavians, the goddess of love (Frigga) is strongly associated with mistletoe. This link to romance may be where our tradition of kissing under mistletoe comes from. 

Christmas fruitcakes.
According to "The Joy of Cooking" by Irma Rombauer and Marion Becker, "Many people feel that these cakes improve greatly with age. When they are well saturated with alcoholic liquors, which raise the spirits and keep down mold, and are buried in powdered sugar in tightly closed tins, they have been enjoyed as long as 25 years after baking." 

Why are there oversized socks hanging on your mantel?
According to a very old tradition, the original Saint Nicholas (Santa) left his very first gifts of gold coins in the stockings of three poor girls who needed the money for their wedding dowries. The girls had hung their stockings by the fire to dry. See this page for a version of this story. Up until lately, it was traditional to receive small items like fruit, nuts and candy in your stocking, but these have been replaced in the last half-century by more expensive gifts in many homes. 

Why are Christmas cards scattered all over the coffee table?
Christmas cards started in London in 1843 and in America in 1846. Today about two billion Christmas cards are exchanged every year in the United States. 

Christmas Carols
There is a set of songs that are played continuously during the Christmas Season. Here's a pretty complete list: 

Away In A Manger 
Carol of the Bells 
Deck The Halls 
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 
Jingle Bells 
Joy To The World 
Hark, The Herald Angels Sing 
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 
I'll Be Home For Christmas 
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear 
Little Drummer Boy
O Come All Ye Faithful 
O Holy Night 
O, Little Town of Bethlehem 
O Tannenbaum 
Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer 
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town 
Silent Night 
Silver Bells 
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) 
The First Noel 
The Twelve Days of Christmas 
We Wish You A Merry Christmas 
What Child Is This? 
White Christmas 
Winter Wonderland 

What, exactly, are the 12 days of Christmas?
The 12 days of Christmas are the 12 days that separate Christmas day on December 25 from Epiphany, which is celebrated January 6. Depending on the church, January 6 may mark Christ's baptism (the Catholic tradition), or it may mark the day that the wise men visited the baby Jesus with their gifts. 

In the past, there was a tradition of giving gifts throughout the 12 days, rather than stacking them all up on the morning of December 25. That tradition, as you might imagine, has never really caught on in America! We just aren't that patient. The song, however, demonstrates that some people once stretched out their gifts (and gave some fairly elaborate gifts...) over the full 12 days. 

Why is the day before Christmas, Christmas Eve, celebrated?
Christmas Eve is a big deal for religious reasons, such as the midnight mass, and also for retail reasons. 1867 was the first year that Macy's department store in New York City remained open until midnight on Christmas Eve. 

Who is this Santa Claus?
It is amazing but true that the common, popular view of Santa that we all have today, along with all the crazy things around Santa like the sleigh, the reindeer and the chimney, all came largely from two publishing events that occurred in the 1800s and one advertising campaign in this century. Clement Moore wrote "The Night Before Christmas" in 1822 for his family. It was picked up by a newspaper, then reprinted in magazines and it spread like wildfire. Moore admitted authorship in 1838. If you read the poem you will find that he names the reindeer, invents the sleigh, comes up with the chimney and the bag of toys, etc. 

Then, between 1863 and 1886, Harper's Weekly (a popular magazine of the time) ran a series of engravings by Thomas Nast. From these images come the concepts of Santa's workshop, Santa reading letters, Santa checking his list and so on. Coca-Cola also played a role in the Santa image by running a set of paintings by Haddon Sundblom in its ads between 1931 to 1964. 

The red and white suit came, actually, from the original Saint Nicholas. Those colors were the colors of the traditional bishop's robes. 

Who is this one reindeer at the front named Rudolf?
The whole story of Rudolf appeared, out of nowhere, in 1939. Santas at Montgomery Ward stores gave away 2.4 million copies of a booklet entitled "Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer." The story was written by a person in the advertising department named Robert May, and the booklet was illustrated by Denver Gillen. The original name of the reindeer was not Rudolf, according to the book Extraordinary Origins of Ordinary Things by Charles Panati. The original name was Rollo, but executives did not like that name, nor Reginald. The name Rudolf came from the author's young daughter! In 1949, Gene Autry sang a musical version of the poem and it was a run-away best-seller. The Rudolf song is second only to "White Christmas" in popularity. 

Boxing Day
The holiday's roots can be traced to Britain, where Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen's Day. Reduced to the simplest essence, its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after.

At various times, the following "origins" have been loudly asserted as the correct one: 

  • Centuries ago, ordinary members of the merchant class gave boxes of food and fruit to trades people and servants the day after Christmas in an ancient form of Yuletide tip. These gifts were an expression of gratitude to those who worked for them, in much the same way that one now tips the paperboy an extra $20 at Christmastime or slips the building's superintendent a bottle of fine whisky. Those long-ago gifts were done up in boxes, hence the day coming to be known as "Boxing Day." 

  • Christmas celebrations in the old days entailed bringing everyone together from all over a large estate, thus creating one of the rare instances when everyone could be found in one place at one time. This gathering of his extended family, so to speak, presented the lord of the manor with a ready-made opportunity to easily hand out that year's stipend of necessities. Thus, the day after Christmas, after all the partying was over and it was almost time to go back to far-flung homesteads, serfs were presented with their annual allotment of practical goods. Who got what was determined by the status of the worker and his relative family size, with spun cloth, leather goods, durable food supplies, tools, and whatnot being handed out. Under this explanation, there was nothing voluntary about this transaction; the lord of the manor was obligated to supply these goods. The items were chucked into boxes, one box for each family, to make carrying away the results of this annual restocking easier; thus, the day came to be known as "Boxing Day." 

  • Many years ago, on the day after Christmas, servants in Britain carried boxes to their masters when they arrived for the day's work. It was a tradition that on this day all employers would put coins in the boxes, as a special end-of-the-year gift. In a closely-related version of this explanation, apprentices and servants would on that day get to smash open small earthenware boxes left for them by their masters. These boxes would house small sums of money specifically left for them. 

This dual-versioned theory melds the two previous ones together into a new form; namely, the employer who was obligated to hand out something on Boxing Day, but this time to recipients who were not working the land for him and thus were not dependent on him for all they wore and ate. The "box" thus becomes something beyond ordinary compensation (in a way goods to landed serfs was not), yet it's also not a gift in that there's nothing voluntary about it. Under this theory, the boxes are an early form of Christmas bonus, something employees see as their entitlement. 

Boxes in churches for seasonal donations to the needy were opened on Christmas Day, and the contents distributed by the clergy the following day. The contents of this alms box originated with the ordinary folks in the parish who were thus under no direct obligation to provide anything at all and were certainly not tied to the recipients by a employer/employee relationship. In this case, the "box" in "Boxing Day" comes from that one gigantic lockbox the donations were left in. 

On Halloween, 31st October, children and adults alike love being scared! Another strange thing about the tradition of Halloween is its unique mix of secular and religious elements. In recent years, the holiday has stirred up a lot of controversy because it offends some Christian groups, which, in turn, upsets many modern-day Wiccans and Druids. Halloween is celebrated throughout the UK, as well as in America.

What Does "Halloween" Mean?
One very obvious question about Halloween is what on earth does the word itself mean? The name is actually a shortened version of "All Hallows' Even," the eve of All Hallows' Day. Hallow is an Old English word for "holy person," and All Hallows' Day is simply another name for All Saints' Day, the day Catholics commemorate all the saints. People began referring to All Hallows' Even as Hallowe'en and then simply Halloween. Taking from the Jewish tradition, Christians have traditionally observed many holy days from sundown on one day until sundown on the following day. This is where we get the practice of celebrating Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, etc. Modern-day Halloween's direct predecessor is the festivity that began All Saints Day, at sundown on October 31. 

Traditional jack-o'-lanterns, hollowed-out turnips with embers or candles inside, became a very popular Halloween decoration in Ireland and Scotland. Folk tradition held that they would ward off Stingy Jack and other spirits on Halloween, and they also served as representations of the souls of the dead. Irish who emigrated to America brought the tradition with them but replaced the turnips with pumpkins because they were more plentiful. Pumpkins were easier to carve than turnips, and people began to give their jack-o'-lanterns frightening faces. 

Bobbing for Apples.
All Hallows' Eve has long been a time to look into the future, and traditional festivities included several divination rituals. These come mostly from folk traditions from the British Isles, and may have their roots in the ancient Samhain festivities. A lot of marriage divinations had to do with apples, perhaps because in Celtic tradition the fruit was associated with female deities who controlled the ways of love. 
One of the most popular divinations was for young unmarried people to try to bite into an apple floating in water or hanging from a string. This is something like the bouquet toss that still plays a part in wedding receptions -- the first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to marry. 

For children, the main event of Halloween is still to dress up and go trick-or-treating door to door. Most households in the United States and Canada participate, and those who don't hand out candy run the risk of petty vandalism. Many adults even dress up themselves, to go out with their children or to attend costume parties and contests. But a number of other Halloween activities now fill the whole month of October. 

Halloween Controversy
Although Halloween comes in part from Christian tradition, many Christian groups want nothing to do with the holiday because of its pagan elements. Many Halloween figures, such as witches and ghouls, carry an uncomfortable satanic connotation to some Christians, and they do not want to expose their children to these images. Some groups are also disturbed by the origins of the holiday, as it is a common belief that the Samhain festival was a celebration of a god of the dead called Samhain, who was a sort of devil figure. Most evidence suggests that this is not actually the case -- the main documentation for such a god comes from material apparently produced by the Catholic church hundreds of years ago, as a means of converting people away from Druidism. 

Christian groups are also disturbed by rumors that modern day Wiccans and Druids observe Halloween as an occasion to worship Satan or other evil forces. The established organizations of these groups completely disavow all knowledge of such practices, though they do say that Halloween is an important day of the year in their religion. Every year there are some reports of satanic rituals and even animal sacrifices, but there is good evidence that many of these stories are fabrications and that actual incidents are the practices of individuals and smaller extremist groups, operating outside any larger organization. 

Many Wiccans, modern day witches, get upset around Halloween because they feel that they are misrepresented by a few Christian spokesmen and the news media. They want to separate their religion from the popular notion of witches as evil figures in league with the Devil. They say that modern witchcraft is based on ancient Wiccan and Druid beliefs that had nothing to do with Satan or other figures from Judeo-Christian theology. Wiccans want people to know that their religion is based on a connection to nature and the universe and not dark forces and evil spells, as the popular idea of a witch suggests. Wiccan leaders cite historical documents that show that the popular notion of witches arose from Catholic propaganda hundreds of years ago. 

More generally, Halloween is controversial because many people think it is an inappropriate, possibly dangerous holiday for children. Children are in some physical danger when they go trick-or-treating because they are walking around neighborhoods in the dark, accepting candy from strangers. Some people also believe that the frightening imagery surrounding Halloween is too disturbing to children, noting that younger trick-or-treaters have a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality and may be completely overwhelmed by people in monster costumes. In recent years, more and more parents have steered away from trick-or-treating, taking their children to school or church Halloween parties instead. 

This is a tough issue for parents because they often have very fond memories of trick-or-treating when they were children, but don't feel comfortable taking their own kids out. They say that Halloween was less frightening when they were kids because it was mostly about dressing up in fun costumes and children weren't exposed to so much disturbing imagery in popular culture. Modern horror movies have become a particularly sore point for concerned parents, as they are usually extremely violent. 

Others note that many aspects of Halloween are very important to children. Dressing up can give shy children a boost of self-confidence and trick-or-treating may create a healthy feeling of community in a neighborhood. Most of all, adults who love Halloween would hate to see their favorite traditions phased out, because they remember how much they enjoyed them. At this point, Halloween does seem to be headed for some changes, but there are many different ideas of what these changes should be. 

Why do People Love Halloween?
So now that we know where the different elements of Halloween come from, the question remains: Why do we revel in a celebration of death and supernatural forces? 
Two related questions are: 

Why do we enjoy being scared? 
Why do we enjoy dressing up as scary figures? 
All of these pleasures seem to be universal human traits, with death-related festivals and costume parades popping up in many cultures. As human beings, we are acutely aware of our own mortality and death in general. Human cultures are obsessed with death because we cannot possibly understand it, yet it looms over everything we do. It is one of the most frightening mysteries we face in life. One way to feel more comfortable with this unknown realm is to make light of it with a festival. This brings all the frightening ideas out in the open, where we can work through our fears more comfortably, enjoying ourselves with other people instead of contemplating mortality on our own. 

In addition to working through uneasiness about death and supernatural mysteries, people like to feel frightened for purely biological reasons. When we watch a scary movie or take a ride on a roller coaster, our body releases adrenaline and other hormones because it thinks we are in some danger and we need extra energy do deal with the situation. When you're actually in danger, of course, you don't enjoy the feeling of these hormones, you simply use them to fight, escape or take some other action. When the danger is simulated, though, your mind knows you're actually safe and you enjoy the energy the hormones give you. Intentional, contained fear is fun for most people because it gives us a hormone rush and helps us work through our general fears in a safe environment. 

By dressing up as our fears, we embrace them even more closely, taking control of them to some extent. This can be particularly effective with children. They usually don't fear mortality so much as they do sinister figures like monsters and ghosts. Once they've dressed themselves up as a monster and played that character, they cut through some of the monster's mystery, making it less ominous. 

Trick-or-treating is not all about dressing up as frightening figures, of course. Just as often, children dress as a favorite cartoon character or a future occupation. The pleasure in this is simply play-acting -- kids look forward to Halloween because they get to inhabit a character, whether it be a frightening figure or an idolized superhero. Adults enjoy dressing up for similar reasons, and this is why the masquerade plays a part in so many festivals from different cultures. Putting on a mask lets people drop their inhibitions and step outside of themselves for an evening. People in costumes often say and do things they would be very hesitant to say or do in their everyday life. It's very satisfying to step into another character for a while, even for a serious grown-up. 

Halloween obviously serves a valuable function for many children and adults. It continues to be so popular because it fills our basic need to address the mysteries that frighten us, and even celebrate these mysteries. It is a real testament to the power of Halloween traditions that they have been passed down and embraced by so many generations. 

Commercial Easter Celebrations
In addition to the religious celebrations and observances of Easter, many countries also celebrate Easter with sweets and baked goods. Eggs, a traditional symbol of new life, are hard-boiled and dyed. Chocolate candies of all shapes and sizes are bought. Cakes and breads are baked and carefully decorated. And in many homes, families celebrate Easter with a gathering of family for an elaborate Easter dinner. 
Easter Eggs

The Easter Bunny
Chocolate eggs (and bunnies) are popular Easter treats these days. Rabbits are a powerful symbol of fertility and new life, and therefore, of Easter. The Easter Bunny, like Santa Claus, has become a popular children's character. But it may be that the Easter Bunny is something of a historical mistake. Hares were sacred to the pagan festival of Eostre. At some point, the hare was replaced by the rabbit (some say that this is because it is difficult to tell hares and rabbits, both long-eared mammals, apart). 

Hot Cross Buns
According to the book Dates and Meanings of Religious & Other Festivals," hot cross buns "... used to be kept specially for Good Friday with the symbolism of the cross, although it is thought that they originated in pagan times with the bun representing the moon and its four quarters." 

The custom of eating hot cross buns goes back to pre-Christian times, when pagans offered their god, Zeus, a cake baked in the form of a bull, with a cross upon it to represent its horns. Throughout the centuries, hot cross buns were made and eaten every Good Friday, and it was thought that they had miraculous curative powers. People hung buns from their kitchen ceilings to protect their households from evil for the year to come. Good Friday bread and buns were said never to go moldy. This was probably because the buns were baked so hard that there was no moisture left in the mixture for the mold to live on. Hot cross buns and bread baked on Good Friday were used in powdered form to treat all sorts of illnesses. 

Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent.
If you live outside the UK, you probably haven't heard of Shrove Tuesday. But you probably know it by its other name, Mardi Gras. Pancakes were originally eaten on Shrove Tuesday -- the Tuesday before Lent -- to use up eggs and fat before the fast of Lent. Today, these pancakes are generally made of eggs, milk and flour. The word "shrove" comes from "shrive," meaning "the confessions of sins" -- something done in preparation for Lent. 

Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting that gets its name from the practice of sprinkling ashes over those engaging in the fast of Lent. Has anyone ever apologized to you by saying, "Let me put on my ashes and sackcloth..."? This is where that saying originated. Those wishing to receive the sacrament of penance were known as "penitents." They wore sackcloth and were required to remain apart from the Christian community until Maundy Thursday. This practice fell into disuse during the eighth, ninth and 10th centuries, when the beginning of Lent was symbolized by placing ashes on the heads of the entire congregation. 

Today, Christians have a cross put on their forehead in ashes. The ashes are usually made from the previous year's blessed palm fronds from Palm Sunday, and are usually wet with holy water before being used. 

The name Lent comes from the Middle English "lenten," meaning "spring." Lent signifies 40 days of fasting in order to imitate the fast of Jesus Christ after his baptism (the Epiphany). Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Sunday, when it ends. 

Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is the sixth and final Sunday of Lent. In many churches, it is the beginning of Holy Week, a week of observances leading up to Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday occurs one week before Easter and marks Jesus' entry into Jerusalem when his supporters waved palm fronds to celebrate his arrival. Today, many people use the ashes from palm fronds used on the previous year's Palm Sunday to mark a cross on the forehead of penitents on Ash Wednesday. 

Maundy Thursday
The word "maundy" may have come from the maund (or mand) basket used by the fishermen in the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Centuries ago, there was a fair held on this day in Norwich (Norfolk), at which vendors sold horses, cattle and general merchandise. Some of the fisher-folk brought their maund baskets filled with items to sell, including fish. Clothing and hats were sold, as it was customary to buy a new item of clothing for Easter Sunday. This may well have been the origin of the Easter bonnet and the notion of wearing new spring attire for Easter. 

Maundy Thursday may also have come from the Latin word "mandatum," meaning "commandment," as in the Biblical words of Jesus, 

"'A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.'" (John 13:34, NIV). 
Many Maundy Thursday services begin with these words. 
Good Friday
The Friday before Easter is called Good Friday, and is a somber observance of Christ's crucifixion on the cross. Christians believe that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross made it possible for them to know peace with God. They wanted to celebrate their peace rather than observe Friday as a day of mourning or sadness. 

The name may also be derived from God's Day, since in the first two centuries, the word "good" would only ever have been used as a description for God. The Saxons and Danes called this day Long Friday, and Good Friday in Danish is Langfreday. 

Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus' resurrection. Along with Christmas, Easter is considered one of the oldest and most joyous days on the Christian calendar. Religious services and other Easter celebrations vary throughout the regions of the world and even from country to country. In the United States, many "sunrise services" are held outside on Easter morning. These early services are symbolic of the empty tomb that was found early that Sunday morning and of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem before sunrise on the Sunday of his resurrection. 

"'Do not be alarmed,' he said. 'You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.'" (Mark 16:6, NIV) 
It is important to understand that Easter was not celebrated or mentioned in the Bible. Rather, the three days from Good Friday through Easter Sunday has become a traditional observance of when Christians believe that the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ occurred. 

Valentines Day
It's not difficult to figure out the connection between the heart and Valentine's Day. The heart, after all, was thought in ancient times to be the source of all emotions. It later came to be associated only with the emotion of love. (Today, we know that the heart is, basically, the pump that keeps blood flowing through our bodies!) It's not clear when the valentine heart shape became the symbol for the heart (we all know the heart isn't really shaped like that). Some scholars speculate that the heart symbol as we use it to signify romance or love came from early attempts by people to draw an organ they'd never seen. Anyway, here are some of the other valentine symbols and their origins: 

Red roses were said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love; also, red is a color that signifies strong feelings. 

Lace has long been used to make women's handkerchiefs. Hundreds of years ago, if a woman dropped her handkerchief, a man might pick it up for her. Sometimes, if she had her eye on the right man, a woman might intentionally drop her handkerchief to encourage him. So, people began to think of romance when they thought of lace. 

Love knots have series of winding and interlacing loops with no beginning and no end. A symbol of everlasting love, love knots were made from ribbon or drawn on paper. 
Lovebirds, colorful birds found in Africa, are so named because they sit closely together in pairs -- like sweethearts do! Doves are symbols of loyalty and love, because they mate for life and share the care of their babies. 

How about the "X" sign representing a kiss? This tradition started with the Medieval practice of allowing those who could not write to sign documents with an "X". This was done before witnesses, and the signer placed a kiss upon the "X" to show sincerity. This is how the kiss came to be synonymous with the letter "X", and how the "X" came to be commonly used at the end of letters as kiss symbols. (Some believed "X" was chosen as a variation on the cross symbol, while others believe it might have been a pledge in the name of Christ, since the "X" or Chi symbol, is the second letter of the Greek alphabet and has been used in church history to represent Christ.) 

There's some controversy regarding Saint Valentine, for whom the famous day is named. Archaeologists, who unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, are not sure if there was one Valentine or more! Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred on Feb. 14 -- at least two of those in Italy during the 3rd century.) The most popular candidate for St. Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest who practiced Christianity and performed secret marriages against direct orders from Emperor Claudius II, who believed single soldiers were more likely to join his army. Legend has it that Valentine sent a friend (the jailer's daughter) a note signed "From Your Valentine" before he was executed on Feb. 14 in 270 A.D. (That phrase is still used prominently on today's cards!)

A variety of interesting Valentine's Day traditions developed over time. For example, hundreds of years ago in England, children dressed up as adults on Valentine's Day and went singing holiday verses from door to door. In Wales, wooden love spoons, carved with key, keyhole and heart designs, were given as gifts. 

The gift of flowers on Valentine's Day -- along with Mother's Day, the busiest floral holiday of the year -- probably dates to the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art called "the language of flowers" to Europe. Throughout the 18th century, floral lexicons were published, allowing secrets to be exchanged with a lily or lilac, and entire conversations to take place in a bouquet of flowers. The more popular the flower, the more traditions and meanings have been associated with it. The rose, representing love, is probably the only flower with a meaning that is universally understood. The red rose remains the most popular flower bought by men in the United States for their sweethearts. In more recent years, people have sent their sweethearts their favorite flowers, rather than automatically opting for roses. Also making the list of valentine favorites are tulips, lilies, daisies and carnations. 

Among early valentine gifts were candies, usually chocolates, in heart-shaped boxes. Companies like Godiva Chocolatiers have made high quality chocolate in artistic designs and elegant wrappings a traditional valentine's gift. (If you're a chocolate connoisseur, check out Godiva's chocolate glossary and try a few of their Valentine's Day recipes!) 

Apparently, gifts of chocolates and flowers haven't replaced carefully chosen cards on Valentine's Day. Since 1915, Hallmark, the undisputed leader of the greeting card industry, has manufactured cards to be mailed in envelopes. Founder Joyce Hall started selling greeting postcards from two shoe boxes as early as 1910. The Norfolk, Neb., teenager with the big ideas built a Kansas City business/global empire he hardly could have imagined! Today, Hallmark makes a tremendously diverse range of cards in 30 languages and sells them in more than 100 countries. 

Some people still make their own valentines and most parents think these are the best kind. And if you're not sure what to write in your valentine, look at this Web site of love quotes. 

The modern valentine card has become increasingly sophisticated, keeping pace with popular technological advances. For example, there are cards that let you record a romantic message, "scratch-and-sniff" cards (chocolate smells would be nice!) and cards that play romantic music.

And of course, you can send e-mail valentines. Some sites even offer free personal use of their illustrations or cards. Other technology allows you to send a romantic fax or videotape with a personal valentine message. But choose your valentine carefully -- some people find fax and e-mail missives too impersonal -- and not private enough -- for this holiday of love! Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest! 

Time Zones
The United Kingdom is all in the same Time Zone, however twice per year the time is altered to allow for more daylight. The clock goes forward 1 hour at 1:00 on the last Sunday in March and back to normal time at 1:00 on the last Sunday in October.


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