Why do we have bank holidays?

A close-up of a diary which includes bank holidays

They're the dates in the diary we look forward to each year but have you ever wondered why we have bank holidays?

Bank holidays are a welcome annual treat in the UK, and many of use want to know how many Bank Holidays are there in 2023, so we can best enjoy these rare days off from work with friends and family or spend time with the kids outside of school holidays.

Religious events like Christmas and Easter are probably the most famous bank holidays, though the May Day bank holiday and Boxing Day are two other important national holidays that also allow us some much needed time off.

The tradition of bank holidays dates back centuries with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all having a set number of public holidays to enjoy each year. But every few years us Brits are treated to an extra bank holiday for important national events, with the Queen's Platinum Jubilee in 2022 the next example of this.

Why do we have bank holidays?

The tradition of having bank holidays dates back to as early as 1871, when the UK's Bank Holiday Bill was first drafted.

Banker, politician and science writer Sir John Lubbock was the man who helped craft the bill which later became law. His involvement in establishing public holidays led some people at the time to call them "St Lubbock's Days" as a thanks for creating them.

A Family bank holiday get together in a garden

People normally celebrate a bank holiday with friends and family. Credit: Getty

Originally, bank holidays were designed for banks and other financial buildings to close (hence their name). Though over time, the concept was adopted by shops, businesses and schools, leading to a country-wide implementation by the government.

The British Royal Family have the power to add extra public holidays on extra-special state occasions. Extra bank holidays for the UK occurred in 2002 for the Queen's Golden Jubilee and again in 2011, when Prince William and Kate got married.

2022 will include an extra bank holiday thanks to the Queen as Her Majesty celebrates her Platinum Jubilee (an incredible 70 years on the throne).

When are bank holidays in the UK?

Bank holiday dates in the UK differ per country. But as a rule, England and Wales share the same eight public holidays every year. Whilst Scotland have nine and Northern Ireland have 10 a year, which includes their Patron Saint days.

UK bank holidays:

  • New Year's Day (1 January - UK wide)
  • 2 January (Scotland only)
  • St Patrick's Day (17 March - Northern Ireland only)
  • Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday - UK wide)
  • Easter Monday (Monday after Easter Sunday - England, Wales and Northern Ireland only)
  • Early May Bank Holiday (First Monday in May - UK wide)
  • Spring Bank Holiday (Last Monday in May - UK wide)
  • Battle of the Boyne (12 July - Northern Ireland only)
  • First Monday in August (Scotland only)
  • Last Monday in August (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only)
  • St. Andrew's Day (30 November - Scotland only)
  • Christmas Day (25 December - UK wide)
  • Boxing Day (26 December - UK wide)

Public holidays in the UK are clarified and shared on the government's website each year. Whilst popular bank holidays like Christmas and Patron Saint days always fall on the same dates each year, others like Good Friday and Easter Monday vary from year to year. This is because Easter dates are based on the spring equinox and so change each year.

It's also worth noting that if a bank holiday like Christmas or New Year's Day falls on a weekend, then a ‘substitute’ weekday becomes a bank holiday.

Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.