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Festivals in Britain

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Modern Holidays in Britain

Traditional seaside holidays

The British upper class started the fashion for seaside holidays in the late eighteenth century. The middle classes soon followed them and when they were given the opportunity (around the beginning of the twentieth century), so did the working classes. It soon became normal for families to spend a week or two every year at one of the seaside resort towns which sprang up to cater for this new mass market. The most well-known of these are close to the larger towns and cities.

These seaside towns quickly developed certain characteristics that are now regarded as typical of the ‘traditional’ English holiday resort. They have some hotels where richer people stay, but most families stay at boarding houses. These are small family businesses, offering either ‘bed and breakfast’ or, more rarely, ‘full board’ (meaning that all meals are provided). Some streets in seaside resorts are full of nothing but boarding houses. The food in these, and in local restaurants, is cheap and conventional with an emphasis on fish and chips.

Stereotypically, daytime entertainment in sunny weather centres around the beach, where the children make sand castles, buy ice-creams and sometimes go for donkey rides. Older adults often do not bother to go swimming. They are happy just to sit in their deck chairs and occasionally go for a paddle with their skirts or trouser legs hitched up. The water is always cold and, despite efforts to clean it up, sometimes very dirty. But for adults who swim, some resorts have wooden huts on or near the beach, known as ‘beach cabins’, ‘beach huts’ or ‘bathing huts’, in which people can change into their swimming costumes. Swimming and sunbathing without any clothing is rare. All resorts have various other kinds of attraction, including more-or-less permanent funfairs.

For the evenings, and when it is raining, there are amusement arcades, bingo halls, dance halls, discos, theatres, bowling alleys and so on, many of these situated on the pier. This unique British architectural structure is a platform extending out into the sea. The large resorts have decorations which light up at night. The ‘Blackpool illuminations’, for example, are famous.

Another traditional holiday destination, which was very popular in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, is the holiday camp, where visitors stay in chalets in self contained villages with all food and entertainment organised for them. Butlin’s and Pontin’s, the companies which own most of these, are well-known names in Britain. The enforced good-humour, strict meal-times and events such as ‘knobbly knees’ competitions and beauty contests that were characteristic of these camps have now given way to a more relaxed atmosphere.

Modern Holidays in Britain

Both of the traditional types of holiday have become less popular in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The increase in car ownership has encouraged many people to take caravan holidays. But the greatest cause of the decline of the traditional holiday is foreign tourism. Before the 1960s, only the rich took holidays abroad. By 1971, the British were taking 7 million foreign holidays and by 1987, 20 million. These days, millions of British people take their cars across the channel every year and nearly half of all the nights spent on holidays away from home are spent abroad.

Most foreign holidays are package holidays, in which transport and accommodation are booked and paid for through a travel agent. These holidays are often booked a long time in advance. In the middle of winter the television companies run programmes which give information about the packages being offered. People need cheering up at this time of the year! In many British homes it has become traditional to get the holiday brochures out and start talking about where to go in the summer on Boxing Day. Spain is by far the most popular package-holiday destination.

Half of all the holidays taken within Britain are now for three days or less. Every bank-holiday weekend there are long traffic jams along the routes to the most popular holiday areas. The traditional seaside resorts have survived by adjusting themselves to this trend. Only the rich have second houses or cottages in the countryside to which they can escape at weekends. But there are also many other types of holiday. Hiking in the country and sleeping at youth hostels has long been popular and so, among an enthusiastic minority, has pot-holing (the exploration of underground caves). There are also a wide range of ‘activity’ holidays available, giving full expression to British individualism. You can, for example, take part in a ‘ murder weekend’, and find yourself living out the plot of detective story.

An increasing number of people now go on ‘working’ holidays, during which they might help to repair an ancient stone wall or take part in an archaeological dig. This is an echo of another traditional type of ‘holiday’ - fruit picking. It used to be the habit of poor people from the east end of London, for example, to go to Kent at the end of the summer to help with the hop harvest (hops are used for making beer).

Britain is a country governed by routine. It has fewer public holidays than any other country in Europe and fewer than North America. Northern Ireland has two extra ones, however. Even New Year’s Day was not an official public holiday in England and Wales until quite recently but so many people gave themselves a holiday anyway that it was thought it might as well become official!. There are almost no semi-official holidays either. Most official holidays occur either just before or just after a weekend, so that the practice of making a ‘bridge', is almost unknown. Moreover, there are no traditional extra local holidays in particular places. Although the origin of the word ‘holiday’ is ‘holy day’, not all public holidays (usually known as ‘bank holidays’) are connected with religious celebrations.

The British also seem to do comparatively badly with regard to annual holidays. These are not as long as they are in many other countries. Although the average employee gets four weeks’ paid holiday a year, in no town or city in the country would a visitor ever get the impression that the place had ‘shut down’ for the summer break. In fact, about 40% of the population do not go away anywhere for their holidays.


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