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European-American Topics - Editorial - UK National Holiday

Why does the UK have no National Holiday? *

By Elena Goukassian
Posted April 20, 2008


           I was flipping through one of my favorite news magazines the other day, when I came across a story that struck me. It was about how Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are protesting the United Kingdom's governmental proposal of promoting unity by requiring graduating high school students to pledge allegiance to the queen. The article went on to say that other unifying proposals being considered include a citizenship ceremony for immigrants and a national holiday. A national holiday? How is it possible for the UK to not have a national holiday? Although I found this fact very strange at first, I soon realized that it actually made a lot of sense.

            When you think about national holidays, the one thing most of them have in common is celebrating independence from a colonizing state or some other form of oppression. Here, in the US, it's the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. In France, it's the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution. In much of southeastern Europe, it's independence from the Ottoman Empire. In much of South America, independence from Spain. In much of Africa, from France or Britain. The holiday is a little different for the Germans, who celebrate the reunification of East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nevertheless it's the same concept: Freedom from oppression.       

            So, where does that leave the United Kingdom, an island nation that hasn't been conquered since Roman times, whose bloody revolution in the 1640s proved unsuccessful, and is still, effectively, a monarchy? On top of all that, the UK encompasses the reluctant, if not separatist, states of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, which all have their own culture and history. This latter fact is probably of more importance. Take Spain, for example, whose national holiday, when Columbus discovered the Americas, doesn't fit into the “freedom from oppression” formula at all. Although still a monarchy, Spain has been conquered by and freed itself from the Moors and Napoleon. It suffered a bloody civil war and endured more than thirty years under Franco. Yet, because of the Basque and Catalan territories' different perspectives on Spanish historical events, the national holiday is dedicated to Columbus' explorations, something that is so apolitical and far-removed from the Spanish people that no one questions it.

            All this having been said, I wonder what the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Gordon Brown will come up with for the new British national holiday and just how many proposals will be rejected before settling upon something like, I don't know, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution perhaps?


* The term "national holiday," also "national day," is used to describe the one most important holiday in the history of a country, usually an independence day. A "national holiday" in the US includes all holidays celebrated here. In the UK, the term "bank holiday" is used for such a general holiday, such as Boxing Day or Christmas


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