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Festivals in Britain


The Changing of the Guard?
British and Polish Festivals

Click on a picture to see what these Polish and British people think about festivals.

Agnieszka Marta Simon Pounder Mary-Ann McGurran

Agnieszka, 18, a Polish secondary school student

What customs and festivals are important to you ? Why?

Christmas, Easter, birthdays, St. Valentine's Day. I think customs and festivals are an opportunity to have a nice time with your family or friends. It is also a way of saying "I like you" by remembering about someone's birthday.

Have you noticed changes in the festivals and celebrations in Poland? What are the changes?

Changes? No. I don't think so. Maybe presents have become more expensive and there is much more food on the table at Christmas. Generally speaking, I don't think that our culture has changed very much.

Have Polish people adopted any British or American holidays like St. Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day? What's your opinion on that?

I think that sometimes it is nice to pick something up from other countries. St. Valentine's Day for example. It is a very good festival and it is good that it has been adopted in Poland.

Thank you.


Bazyli LeszczyŮski, director of school (Primary School and Gimnazjum with Belorussian Language in Bielsk Podlaski)

Which holidays celebrated in Poland are especially important for you?

Christmas and Easter

How do you celebrate these holidays?

In my family circle, traditionally, without any pomp, at home. I like privacy and the peace and quiet during holidays. We eat traditional dishes prescribed by the canon of Christian religion and folk tradition. However, itís not what it used to be when I was a child. Tradition is changing and itís becoming more modern.

Would you agree with the statement that recently more and more often Polish people observe holidays and customs foreign to Polish tradition, customs Ďborrowedí from the West, e.g. Valentineís Day, Halloween or St. Patrickís day?

Yes. But these holidays are adopted by young people much more readily and quickly than by older generations. A large part is also played by the media in propagating them. Business and commerce benefit from it and these two "forces" shape the new tradition.

Do you see this phenomenon as positive or negative?

Iím not really bothered. Society develops in certain directions whether we like it or not. People themselves will choose things which they find suitable, attractive or proper. No norms or regulations are needed. They wouldnít change anything, anyway.

Can you think of any examples of changes that have taken place in recent years in Poland as far as celebrating holidays?

Religious holidays are becoming less and less religious and increasingly more secular. Todayís religious holidays are more an opportunity to be together with your family over a certain period of time than a religious festival. By becoming Ďmore Europeaní, Polish society is becoming less religious. Religious practices and traditions are losing their religious aspect and becoming secularised.

Thank you.


Marta, in her early twenties, a student of economics

What customs and festivals are important to you ? Why?

All typical festivals such as Christmas or Easter. Also festivals connected with our Polish history e.g. Midsummer Night's Eve (Noc ĆwiÍtojaŮska).

Have you noticed changes in the festivals and celebrations in Poland? What are the changes?

Changes are usually connected with American culture, which is very popular among teenagers because it is "cool".

Have Polish people adopted any British or American holidays like St. Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day? What's your opinion on that?

I think that adopting customs and holidays from other countries is good but we shouldn't adopt all the festivals, only some. We have to preserve our own cultural identity.

Thank you.


Simon Pounder, teacher, The British Council

ĎI prefer the Polish festival of All Saintsí Day to the British festival of Halloween, because All Saintsí Day is more about the Family.í

What British festivals and customs are important to you, and why?

Well, I like Xmas, because I get to go back to Britain and see my family and friends, and my hometown. I like all the Xmas traditions, even the silly ones like pulling crackers and wearing paper hats. Of course, the Xmas meal is important on Xmas Day, with the turkey and Xmas pudding, oh, and the booze. And there has to be a Xmas tree with a star on top and presents underneath.

So, Xmas isnít a particularly religious time for you?

No. Itís more about family and tradition for me. I work abroad, so going home and getting involved in the traditions is particularly important, to help me remember who I am and where I come from. All these things define who I am.

And other festivals?

Well, Easter is not at all important to me. Itís too religious and doesnít really have much to do with the family. And there arenít many customs. I mean, I had chocolate eggs as a kid, but I donít anymore, so thatís it. The idea of the Church as the centre of the community doesnít really exist anymore in Britain, and religion is more of a personal thing now. Thatís why the religious stuff in festivals is not really celebrated as much as the more fun and material, family customs (such as sharing a meal together and giving presents). No, one of my favourites is Bonfire Night, November 5th. I love the hot dogs, the fireworks and the bonfire itself. My parents have always been involved in organising our villageís firework display, so itís quite exciting.

Does the burning of the Guy remind you of the historical background to the festival?

No. That was all religious propaganda anyway. I canít even remember that rhyme about Guy Fawkesí Night . . . ĎRemember, remember 5th Novemberí . . . or something like that. Ironic, eh? No, the festival is about having fun and getting together with family and friends.


I donít like that really. Itís become too Americanised. Trick or treating isnít a British custom. Itís just some sort of cultural invasion. Itís got nothing to do with me or the people I know. I prefer the Polish festival of All Saintsí Day to the British festival of Halloween, because All Saintsí Day is more about the Family.

What about Valentineís Day?

Yes, thatís important to me. I always send a Valentineís card although I donít always receive one [laughs]. I like the flowers and all that, but maybe Valentineís Day is too commercial now. I think itís a shame, because the commercialisation of Valentineís Day detracts from its more traditional aspect.

So, are British festivals changing in your opinion, becoming more commercial, for example?

Yes, I think theyíre changing, but theyíre not disappearing. In some ways, commercialisation is making certain festivals more important. For example, when I was a kid, Fatherís Day wasnít important, but now both Motherís and Fatherís Day are big. Another change is that because the Church is relatively unimportant in British life, the original religious message of festivals is being lost.

The customs youíve mentioned enjoying the most are mostly pagan in origin.

Yes, the pagan customs are just more fun I guess, but they also involve the family or community much more. Thatís important to me, because Iím worried that, increasingly, the family is becoming less important in Britain (I read in the paper the other day that the divorce rate is now 64%). That scares me, because otherwise all there is is money.

Thank you.


Mary-Ann McGurran, teacher, The British Council

ĎPeople put more effort into celebrating Polish festivals than British onesí

What British festivals and customs are important to you, and why?

Xmas is the most important, I think, because itís about family and religion: family most of all; about 60% family and 40% religion. I donít celebrate Xmas in any way thatís particularly British. In fact, the Polish Xmas customs are more important in my house. My motherís Polish, you see, and our Xmas is quite Polish although we live in London. So, we celebrate Wigilia, go to midnight mass and see friends. We celebrate Xmas Day too, but not in a very British way. Sometimes we have goose instead of turkey, and we donít always have Xmas pudding. What we do have are a tree and Xmas crackers. However, unlike a lot of families in Britain, we always have a crib under the tree and never have a fairy on top of the tree. A fairyís too pagan, you see.

So why do you have a tree?

Itís traditional and was important to my parents and their parents, so itís connected to family and history. It may have been a pagan symbol at one time, but now it's just jolly, bright and decorative. Anyway, the crib is the most important thing in the house over Xmas.

What about Easter?

I donít see that as a British festival. I see it as a Christian festival. The chocolate eggs should have nothing to do with Easter in my book.


That just passes me by.

Bonfire Night?

Iím not keen on fireworks, but itís good to remember something about our history. I canít remember the last time I went to a display.

Motherís and Fatherís Day?

Iíll get a card if I remember, but itís really just a commercial festival. Having said that, it is good to have a day for mums and dads.

Valentineís Day?

Thatís just complete commercialism and nonsense, but people get hurt if I donít observe it, especially my boyfriend. I get a card for my boyfriend and a present if I have time.

Are your attitudes to British festivals typical of most households in Britain, do you think?

No, because my parents are religious and church-going. Thatís not typical. Also, I have three brothers, whereas there are less than two children in most British families. Maybe the family celebrations we have in my house are bigger and more fun, and therefore more important to us. My motherís Polish, so Iíve been brought up with that influence. Our family is used to eating together too, whereas most modern British families arenít.

So, are British festivals changing in your opinion?

When I was young, May Day and Guy Fawkesí Night were bigger, but most festivals have now been swamped by American commercialism. I celebrate Christian festivals, not national ones. British culture, at least in London, has been disappearing since WWII.

Thank you.

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