The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. From pre-Christian times, people in the Roman Empire brought branches from evergreen plants indoors in the winter


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What do people do?

For many people Boxing Day is a time to recover from the excesses of Christmas day and an opportunity to spent time with family, friends and neighbors. Some people choose to go for a walk in the countryside, while other flock to the post-Christmas sales in large stores that often begin on Boxing Day. Some people even spend part of the night and early morning queuing to get into the stores when the best bargains are still available.Boxing Day is also an important day for sports events. Traditionally, using dogs to hunt for foxes was a popular sport amongst the upper classes. Pictures of hunters on horseback dressed in red coats and surrounded by hunting dogs are often seen as symbolic of Boxing Day. Nowadays, fox hunting is outlawed. Horse racing and football (soccer) are now popular sports.

Public life

Boxing Day is a bank holiday. If Boxing Day falls on a Saturday, the following Monday is a bank holiday. If Christmas Day falls on a Saturday, the following Monday and Tuesday are bank holidays. All schools and many organizations are closed in this period. Some may close for the whole week between Christmas and New Year. Many stores are open and now start their post-Christmas sales on Boxing Day. This makes December 26 a very important day for many retailers. Many public transport services run on special timetables. Many people travel to visit family or friends in this period, so bus, plane and train services can be very busy.

Background and symbols

There are a number of stories behind the origin of the term 'Boxing Day'. It used to be customary for employers to give their employees or servants a gift of money or food in a small box on this day. This is still customary for people who deliver letters or newspapers, although the gift may be given before Christmas Day. In feudal times, the lord of the manor would gather all those who worked on his land together on this day and distribute boxes of practical goods, such as agricultural tools, food and cloth. This was payment for the work that they had done throughout the passed year. Other stories relate to servants being allowed to take a portion of the food left over from the Christmas celebrations in a box to their families and the distribution of alms from the Church collection box to poor parishioners. These traditions have evolved into the Christmas hampers that many large employers distribute, although these are now often distributed in the week before Christmas.

December 31 is known as Hogmanay in Scotland and New Year's Eve in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is the last day of the year, according to the Gregorian calendar, commonly used in modern times.

Many people hold or attend parties in the evening to bid the old year goodbye and to welcome the new year. The past year is also thoroughly reviewed in the media, including television and newspapers.

What do people do?

Many people spend most of December 31 quietly. They may spend time outdoors, reading the reviews of the last year in newspapers or resting in preparation for the New Year's Eve parties that begin in the late afternoon or evening. People who host parties may spend a large part of the day preparing food and arranging drinks. In the evening, New Year's Eve parties usually go on for many hours, well beyond midnight. Some, particularly young people, may choose to spend the evening in pubs, clubs or discos. Although there are many who celebrate the event responsibly with moderate amounts of alcohol, some celebrate the event with large amounts of alcohol, which can lead to fights and other acts of foolishness in the early hours of the morning.



Just before midnight, people turn on a radio or television to see the countdown of the last few minutes of the old year and the display of fireworks just after midnight. At this point, people often hug and kiss each other, even strangers, and many start singing Auld Lang Syne, a poem written by Scottish poet Robert Ayton. In Scotland, the Hogmanay celebrations may last for one or two more days, as both January 1 and 2 are bank holidays. In the rest of the United Kingdom, only January 1 is a bank holiday.

In Scotland and some parts of northern England, people may spend the last few hours of December 31 preparing to be or receive first-footers. The first person to cross the threshold of a house after the start of the new year is a first-footer. First-footers are usually men and in different areas have different physical characteristics, such as blond or dark hair, bring different kinds of luck to the household in the coming year. They bring gifts, such as whiskey, shortbread, coal and fruit cake, which are then shared among all of the guests.

Public life

December 31 is not a public holiday. However, schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and many people have a day off work or leave earlier than usual. Stores and post offices are generally open, but may close earlier than usual. Public transport systems may run to their usual schedule, but they may have a reduced service or close down totally in the late afternoon or evening.

In some big cities, public transport services resume services around midnight to enable people attending large scale events to return home safely. Entrance to pubs, clubs and discos may be by invitation or a pre-booked ticket only. Major train and bus stations may be congested as many young people travel to spend New Year's Eve and Day with friends.

Background

Midwinter celebrations have been held by the people of the British Isles since ancient times. These often included parties, special food and large fires to "tempt" the sun to return. After the introduction of Christianity, some aspects of these were included in celebrating Jesus' birth at Christmas. However, this was resisted by the Scottish Presbyterian church. For this reason, Hogmanay was the main winter festival in Scotland until the 1970s. Both Christmas and Hogmanay are now celebrated in Scotland.



Symbols

One of the most widely known symbols of New Year's Eve is the image of the Clock Tower at the Palace of Westminster, in London, counting down the last minutes of the old year. The first chimes of Big Ben, the bell housed in the Clock Tower, in the new year are broadcast live on radio and television. This is followed by a spectacular fireworks performance, often centered on the London Eye, which is claimed to be the largest Ferris wheel in Europe.



Halloween is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting "haunted houses" and carving jack-o-lanterns. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century including Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom as well as of Australia and New Zealand.

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced "sah-win").


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