Today May 1st is one of two Bank Holidays in the UK which fall in May, with Brits looking forward to another day off work on May 29th.
How did Bank Holidays come about in the UK? And how do they match up as national holidays with the rest of the world?
Which country is lucky enough to have 25 days of national holiday each year?!
What are Bank Holidays?
In the UK, a Bank Holiday means a national holiday for everybody. People generally do not go into work on a Bank Holiday. Historically, all shops were shut on a Bank Holiday. Nowadays some shops shut which would otherwise be open. But some big retailers (like Curry’s and Argos) are open as can be with mega sales days, offering huge price reductions.
Employers are not obliged to give staff the day off, but that is generally what happens. Employers do not generally pay leave for Bank Holidays either. (Confusingly, the banks are closed on Bank Holidays along with other businesses, but are also closed at other times too when other businesses would be open.)
What Bank Holidays do we currently have each year in the UK?
England and Wales have eight Bank Holidays a year:
1 January New Year’s Day
30 March Good Friday
2 April Easter Monday
1 May Early May bank holiday
29 May Spring bank holiday
28 August Summer bank holiday
25 December Christmas Day
26 December Boxing Day
“If a bank holiday is on a weekend, a ‘substitute’ weekday becomes a bank holiday, normally the following Monday.” (gov.uk)
(The UAE has 11 National Holidays per year)
Why do we have Bank Holidays in the UK?
33 religious days were observed as days of no business by the Bank of England until 1834, when this was trimmed drastically to just 4 days. So, in the beginning, Bank Holidays in the UK were based purely on a religious calendar.
The first legislation for Bank Holidays was the Victorian Bank Holidays Act 1871 which established four Bank Holidays for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and five Bank Holidays for Scotland. The terms of a Bank Holiday were set in law that no man could be asked to work or conduct financial transactions – as they would be free of such obligations already on Christmas Day.
Exactly a century after the 1871 Bank Holidays Act, legislation was updated with the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 which acted as a general tidy-up of the regional schedules. Then Bank Holidays were introduced for New Years Day in 1974, and for May Day (today’s Bank Holiday) in 1978.
What’s royal about Bank Holidays?
Bank Holidays are confirmed each year by royal proclamation, which is also used to move bank holidays each year which would otherwise fall on the day of a weekend.
Are Bank Holidays the same across the regions of the UK?
No. There are variations. Scotland was treated differently from the start under the 1871 Bank Holidays Act, with a different schedule of days to England, Wales and Ireland.
Ireland gained St Patrick’s Day (March 17th) as a Bank Holiday in 1903.
Scotland gained November 30th as St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday in 2007.
England does not celebrate the equivalent national saint day of St George’s Day (April 23rd) with a Bank Holiday.
Nor does Wales celebrate St David’s Day (March 1st) with a Bank Holiday.
Has the UK ever had an emergency Bank Holiday?
Yes. In 1968’s sterling crisis, March 15th was declared a Bank Holiday on the day before by the Privy Council to stop the pound getting savaged.
How do England’s national holidays match up globally?
England has 8 national holidays every year. But there’s a country that has three times that, and a good thirty more countries that have more national holidays per year. Heading the list of the world’s most enthusiastic holders of national holidays, Sri Lanka boasts 25 national holidays every year. In second place, India holds 21 and, in third place come Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia and the Philippines with 18.
Public Holidays per Country per Year
Rank Holidays Country/Countries
1 25 Sri Lanka
2 21 India
3 18 Trinidad and Tobago
4 18 Colombia, Philippines
5 17 China, Hong Kong
6 16 Thailand, Turkey, Pakistan
7 15 Japan, Malaysia, Argentina, Lithuania, Vietnam, Sweden
8 14 Indonesia, Chile, Slovakia
9 13 South Korea, Austria, Belgium, Norway, Taiwan
10 12 Finland, Russia
11 11 Singapore, Italy, Denmark, France, UAE, Morocco, Czech Republic, Luxembourg
How does Sri Lanka end up with 25 days of national holiday every year?
Lucky Sri Lanka, eh? Analysts say it is Sri Lanka’s unusually wide spread of religions that accounts for its status as the world’s leading holder of national holidays – seeing as, like in other countries including the UK, the schedule of national holidays follows often antiquated religious calendars.