Festivals, holidays and events in the UK – a guide for international students
There are many festivals, holidays and events in the UK for you to get involved with. Some of these fall on specific dates whilst others fall at some point in a certain month. Some are bank holidays, but not all. Please visit www.gov.uk/bank-holidays for a list of all UK bank holidays.
As well as the events below, there will be lots of local events going on in the town or city which you are staying. Keep an eye on the local news and check local or national websites to see what is happening. Websites such as www.timeout.com/london and www.yorkshire.com (and equivalent for other cities and counties) are great starting points.
25th January – Burns’ Night (Scotland)
Burn’s night is a celebration of Robbie Burns, a celebrated Scottish poet. In Scotland people have a special dinner on Burns’ Night. Men wear kilts and people listen to traditional bagpipe music, they dance, read Burn’s poetry and share a meal of haggis (a traditional Scottish dish of sheep heart, liver and lungs) with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). Find out more here.
14th February – Valentine’s Day
Saint Valentine’s Day (also known as Valentine’s Day) is celebrated in many countries around the world, although like England, it is not a public holiday in most of them. The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. Find out more about the history of Valentine’s day here.
Photo by Robbie Wagner
February – Shrove Tuesday or ‘Pancake Day’
Shrove Tuesday, more commonly known as Pancake Day, falls the day before Lent begins. Lent is the traditional Christian period of fasting which begins 40 days before Easter and ends on Easter Sunday. Nowadays, not many Christians fast, instead preferring to give something up for Lent such as chocolate. Because fasting meant that lots of food would spoil during this period, traditionally people would use up their eggs, milk and sugar by making pancakes. Nowadays, even if people are not fasting, many people still make and eat pancakes on this day. Some people enjoy sweet topping such as sugar and lemon or Nutella. Other people prefer savoury pancakes. Here’s some recipe inspiration.
February – Chinese New Year
Many cities in the UK with a large Asian population celebrate Chinese New Year.
In London there is a parade through Chinatown in the West End with fireworks, music, dance and acrobatics which is the biggest in the world outside Asia. Find out more about the parade here.
February – London Fashion Week
There are two London Fashion Weeks each year – the first London Fashion Week is in February and the second is in September. The September fashion week is the bigger of the two. London Fashion Week events are usually reserved for industry insider only but there are usually other events going on for the general public (such as exhibitions) to coincide with the event. Find our more here.
1st March – St David’s Day
People in Wales and those of Welsh origin celebrate the life of their patron saint, St David, and the Welsh culture on March 1st each year. Many people pin a daffodil or leek to their clothes, and some, especially children, wear traditional costumes. Find out more here.
Photo by National Assembly for Wales
March – Mother’s Day (Mothering Sunday)
Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate your mums and grandmas and everything that they do for you. People give their mother’s gifts and cards and treat them to meals out or do all of the housework for the day. Mothers usually receive breakfast in bed! Find out about the origins of Mothering Sunday here.
17th March – St Patrick’s Day
Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick, is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated annually on 17th March, the day that the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, died. According to legend, Saint Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. Find out more here.
1st April – April Fools’ Day
On April Fools’ Day it is acceptable – even encouraged! – to play tricks and practical jokes on people. Even newspapers, TV and radio shows often feature fake stories to try and trick people. You can read more about some of the most famous April Fools hoaxes here. Any practical jokes must be played before midday and if you catch someone out, you must shout ‘April Fools’! After noon, ‘the joke is on you’.
March to April – Easter
Easter is celebrated in Christian countries to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ (where he is believed to have come back from the dead). We celebrate by going to Church, giving Easter eggs and going on Easter egg hunts. Eggs symbolize new life which is related to Jesus coming back from the dead. There are a few different days which are celebrated by Christian’s throughout the Easter period. These include Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. You can find out more about each of them here.
Good Friday is a bank holiday in the UK, and even for those who are not religious, a chocolate Easter egg is usually a traditional gift to give friends and family.
Photo by Dave Haygarth
23rd April – St George’s Day
St George is the patron Saint of England. There is a legend that he bravely killed a dragon! The Cross of Saint George is red on a white background and is the national flag of England. It is not a national holiday in England (much to the dismay of many English people). You can find out more here.
21st June – Father’s Day
Father’s Day is a day to celebrate your dads and grandads and everything that they do for you. People give their father’s gifts and cards, and treat them to meals out or day trips. You can find out about the origins of father’s day here.
June – The Queen’s Official Birthday
The Queen’s real birthday is on the 21st of April however it has been a tradition since 1748 for the state to celebrate the king or queen’s birthday in June. This is because in June there is more likely to be nicer weather, so the Queen can celebrate her birthday with civilians in a more comfortable climate. A military parade known as Trooping the Colour is held in London and is attended by the Royal Family. You can find out more here.
June – Summer solstice
The Summer solstice is the longest day and shortest night of the year. Developed from a pagan tradition, many people gather at the ancient monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire. People stand inside the monument facing northeast, toward a stone outside the circle called the Heel Stone to watch the sun rise. You can find out more about visiting Stonehenge here.
Photo by MonoharD
June/ July – Wimbledon
Wimbledon in South West London is the venue of one of four annual Grand Slam tennis tournaments held around the world. Wimbledon is synonymous with unpredictable weather and strawberries and cream. Whilst few Brits are interested in tennis for the majority of the year, during the Wimbledon season the UK goes Tennis crazy. Find out more here.
July – Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan and is widely celebrated by Muslims in the UK. Muslim families and communities usually have their own celebrations as well as some large scale celebrations in cities such as London and Birmingham. You can find out more about the Eid Festival on Trafalgar Square here.
August – Eisteddfod
The National Eisteddfod is Wales’ biggest arts and culture festival. You can listen to Welsh music, watch dance and theatre performances, listen to the Welsh language, sample Welsh food and crafts. Find out more here.
August – Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. It features over 40,000 performances and more than 2,500. Whilst any type of performance may participate (e.g. theatre, music and dance) the festival is most famous for comedy. Find out more here.
Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic
August – Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival is held in the streets of Notting Hill in west London over the last Summer bank holiday weekend. It’s Europe’s biggest street festival and it is completely free. Around 1 million people flock to watch the colourful procession, dance to music from salsa to reggae, and taste Caribbean food from street stalls. Find out more here.
September – London Fashion Week
The second and largest of two London Fashion Weeks each year. Find out more here.
31st October – Halloween
Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31st October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the triduum of Hallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed. To find out more about the history and traditions of Halloween in the UK have a look at this article.
Unlike in the USA, it is a relatively calm event. Children will dress up in costumes and go ‘trick or treating’ around the neighbourhood. Trick or Treating involves knocking on a neighbours door, and saying ‘Trick or Treat’. The neighbour then either plays a trick on the child, or gives them a treat (usually sweets). It is very rare for neighbours to play tricks on the children, so the children enjoy the festival because they go home with a bag of sweets!
October/ November – Diwali
Diwali (or Deepavali) is the five day Festival of Lights for Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities. Cities including Manchester, London and Leicester have splendid street parties with displays of lights, lanterns, candles and fireworks as well as music, food and dancing. Find out more about Diwali celebrations in the UK here.
Photo by Bryan Ledgard
November – Movember
Throughout November you may notice that lots of men are growing moustaches. This is because throughout November, the charity campaign of Movember encourages men to grow a moustache to raise funds in support of men’s health. November is affectionately renamed ‘Movember’ which is a combination of the words ‘November’ and ‘moustache’. Find out more here.
5th November – Bonfire Night
In Britain, Bonfire Night is associated with the tradition of celebrating Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November 1605. It is an annual event dedicated to bonfires, fireworks and celebrations. Different traditions celebrate Bonfire Night on different days. Some of the most popular instances include Great Britain’s Guy Fawkes Night, which is also celebrated in some Commonwealth countries. Throughout the UK there are various bonfires and firework displays. Ten of the best are listed in this article.
11th November – Remembrance Day
Every year in the UK on 11th November we honour members of the armed forces who lost their lives in battle. In the weeks leading up to 11th November , The Royal British Legion charity sell paper poppy flowers to raise funds for veterans and their families (the poppy is a symbol of Remembrance Day). It is customary to observe a two-minute silence at 11am. Find out more here.
Photo by S pakhrin
30th November – St Andrew’s Day (Scotland)
St Andrew’s day is Scotland’s official national day. In 2006, the Scottish Parliament designated St Andrew’s Day as an official bank holiday. It is also a national holiday in Romania. In Scotland and many countries with Scottish connections, St Andrew’s Day is marked with a celebration of Scottish culture with traditional Scottish food, music and dance. Find out more here.
November /December – Hanukkah
Jewish communities across the UK celebrate Hanukkah (Chanukah), the Festival of Lights. In London a giant menorah is lit up with candles for the Menorah lighting ceremony in Trafalgar Square. It is the largest event of its kind in Europe. Find out more here.
25th December – Christmas Day
Christmas is an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ and a widely observed cultural holiday, celebrated generally on 25th December by nearly a billion people around the world. Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in countries around the world, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian. In some non-Christian countries, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration (e.g. Hong Kong), while in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led whole populations to observe the holiday.
Christmas markets have made their way to the UK from European countries such as Belgium and Germany and are now held in many UK cities. There are a popular place to visit with friends and family in the run up to Christmas. Have a look at some of Britain’s best Christmas markets here.
Photo by Rachel Docherty
26th December – Boxing Day
Boxing Day is the day after Christmas day. It is a bank holiday in the UK. There are a few theories as to why it’s called ‘Boxing Day’ but no one is completely sure. Arguments include:
- In Britain ‘Christmas Box’ is a name for a Christmas present. Boxing Day was a day off for servants and when they received a ‘Christmas Box’ from the master. ‘Boxing day’ could have been named after the ‘Christmas box’ of money or gifts which employers used to give to servants and tradesmen.
- A box to collect money for the poor was placed in Churches on Christmas day. The money would be distributed the day after. ‘Boxing day’ could have been named after this custom.
Today there are no traditional Boxing Day customs. Most people spend the day eating the Christmas leftovers and maybe going for a walk or to visit friends and family. Find out more here.
31st December – New Years
Like many countries around the world the UK celebrates the New Year, we do this by hosting parties with friends and families to await the countdown to the New Year. In Scotland they call it Hogmanay. We celebrate by having a party with friends and setting fireworks off! In many cities there are free celebrations. Take a look at the 2015 London display here.
Photo of Notting Hill Carnival by Angel Ganev