Why do we have bank holidays?

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  • 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, with many of us enjoying these rare days off from work with friends and family or to 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.

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