In Depth

When are the next bank holidays?

May Day bank holiday to be moved by four days in 2020

There are just two bank holidays left this year - and workers have got a few months to wait.

With memories of the sweltering August bank holiday fading as quickly as the mercury, there is only Christmas Day and Boxing Day left in 2019.

If you’re wondering when the next bank holidays fall, here are the next days off for England and Wales in 2019 and 2020 and how they originated.

Christmas Day (Wednesday 25 December 2019): The penultimate holiday of the year is Christmas Day, which is celebrated in many different ways around the world. Finns share a festive sauna, while in India families decorate a banana or mango tree. In Japan it has become customary to tuck into a festive feast of KFC. Here in the UK, many people celebrate by eating and drinking rather too much.

Boxing Day (Thursday 26 December 2019): Boxing Day was previously known as St Stephen’s Day. Many historians believe that the holiday’s current name may have come from the church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas to distribute donations to the poor. Historically, UK employers also offered workers and servants gifts or cash on 26 December and gave them the day off. While the gifts may have dried up in many modern workplaces, the day remains a bank holiday.

New Year’s Day (Wednesday 1 January 2020): The sensible decision to introduce a day off following New Year's Eve first came about in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1974. Traditionally, the new year is welcomed in with a rendition of Auld Lang Sine at midnight and a vow to stick to a new year's resolution.

Good Friday (Friday 10 April 2020): Easter is always a highly anticipated event, combining as it does two bank holidays to give the majority of UK workers a four-day weekend. Traditionally, Good Friday is a sombre day, on which Christians mark Jesus's crucifixion with prayer and fasting.

Easter Monday (Monday 13 April 2020): Historically, the resurrection of Jesus was celebrated with egg-rolling and games – some of which, such as the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest, are still played today.

Early May bank holiday (Friday 8 May 2020): This festival, which is associated with the coming of spring and new life after the gloom of winter, usually ties in with the traditional May Day and is still celebrated with maypoles, Morris dancing and village fairs in many parts of England. 

However, next year, it will be held four days later than usual to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day, which commemorates the Allies accepting the surrender of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. There will be a three-day weekend of commemorative events. The BBC says the May Day bank holiday “has been moved only once before” when it was changed from 1 May to 8 May in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day.

Spring bank holiday (Monday 25 May 2020): The spring bank holiday used to be held on the Monday after Pentecost – a day of religious significance to both Jews and Christians. However, it was moved to the last Monday in May in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. Traditions include the annual race at Cooper's Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, where people run down a steep hill following a large round cheese with the winner awarded a 7.7lbs Double Gloucester.

Summer bank holiday (Monday 31 August 2020): This day off was first enshrined in the Bank Holidays Act 1871, when it fell at the beginning of August. It was moved to the last Monday in the month as part of the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which is why it can be something of a washout.

Is it the same in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Since 2006, Scotland has had an extra day off for St Andrew’s Day on 30 November (or a substitute Monday if it falls on a weekend), although it does not treat Easter Monday as a bank holiday.

There is also an extra bank holiday on 2 January to mark the “extra importance” Scottish people place on the New Year Hogmanay celebrations, says The Sun. If 1 or 2 January falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the bank holidays are moved to the next weekdays.

North of the border, the summer bank holiday is also held on the first Monday of August rather than the last.

Northern Ireland has the same days off as England and Wales, as well as St Patrick’s Day on 17 March and Battle of the Boyne (Orangemen’s Day) on 12 July.

The latter commemorates William of Orange’s crushing victory over James II in 1690, which secured the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland for generations. It still retains huge symbolic importance in Northern Ireland and has been the focus of sectarian unrest in the past.

How does this compare to the rest of Europe?

The eight days allotted to workers in England and Wales are the lowest in the EU, where the average is 10.8 days, says This is Money.

Only the Dutch share our obvious desire to spend as much time as possible at work.

Eur-Lex puts Cyprus at the top of the EU league, with 16 public holidays in 2019 - twice the number enjoyed in England and Wales.

What about the rest of the world?

In 2014, the human resources company Mercer compiled a table of public holiday allowance across 64 major economies. Of these, it found that Mexico fared worst, with seven days of public holidays a year.

However, BBC’s Reality Check says this number has since risen to nine - more than England and Wales and the same as Scotland.   

At the other end of the global public holiday spectrum, Mercer found India and Colombia came out on top, with 18 public holidays each in 2014.

Will the UK ever introduce more bank holidays?

Over the years there have been calls to either scrap the early May bank holiday or move it to a different date so breaks are more evenly spread throughout the year.

In 2011 the Coalition government launched a consultation which included the suggestion of moving the May bank holiday to October to be a UK Day or Trafalgar Day to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

There are also political motivations behind the proposed move. Despite its roots as a holiday stretching back to pre-Christian pagan festivals, May Day is strongly associated with International Workers' Rights day, “which some think has marked it out as a political target”, says the BBC.

Some people have also long complained that England and Wales fail to honour St George’s Day and St David’s Day, unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have a day off to mark their patron saint.

Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto pledged to introduce four new bank holidays to mark the patron saints of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland across the whole of the UK.

Under Labour’s proposals, the nationwide public holidays would be held on St David’s Day (1 March), St Patrick’s Day (17 March), St George’s Day (23 April) and St Andrew’s Day (30 November).

The party reiterated its plans earlier this year with a tweet, saying: “Happy St George’s Day! With the next Labour government, we’ll celebrate the patron saint with a bank holiday - and bank holidays for St Patrick, St David and St Andrew too. Sound good? Share the news.”

However, the message was swiftly deleted when they realised they had got the date for St George’s Day wrong.

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