This week's unexpected heatwave – which will see temperatures soar as high as 25C in the South East – has many of us yearning to have an extra day off work to picnic in the park, tend to the weeds or head to a beer garden. And if the good weather lasts a few more weeks, we'll be able to.
This year's May Day is on Monday May 7, giving us a relaxing three-day weekend to enjoy the (hopefully) good weather. If you don't want to rely on the budding British summer, May is the ideal month to book a holiday abroad: if you're savvy, 14 days of holiday could become a 24-day break thanks to the bank holiday bonanza.
From how to make the most your annual leave, to what actually happens on May Day, here is everything you need to know about British bank holidays.
Bank holidays explained
Public holidays, or 'bank holidays', were first established in the UK by The Bank Holidays Act of 1871. A Victorian invention that acknowledged a handful of historical dates that carried religious, cultural and agricultural importance.
Perhaps remembering Canterbury's riots during the 1647 ban on Christmas, parliamentarians assured the public that December 25th would continue to be a day of rest. It was felt unnecessary to include it in the Act.
The 1871 Act designated four bank holidays in England, Wales and Ireland and five in Scotland. It was then repealed in 1971 and superseded by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which remains in force.
Contemporary bank holidays see the closure of banks, government offices and most businesses. Although an increasing number of smaller shops and larger retail businesses remain open.
There are now six permanent bank holidays and two public holidays every year in the UK.
Public holidays in Britain comprise bank holidays declared by statute (as listed in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, Schedule 1), by royal proclamation, and by common law/customary holidays.
Surprisingly, Good Friday and Christmas Day are not official bank holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Instead, these are known as public holidays.
Royal proclamation is also used to move holidays that would otherwise fall on a weekend or that are moved for special occasions, or to create additional one-off holidays (such as for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012).
When a bank holiday happens to fall on a Sunday, the following Monday becomes the day when the holiday is observed. This is known as substitute day or 'bank holiday in lieu'.
If the Monday is also a bank holiday, the substitute day moves to the following weekday. UK public holidays always move forward in the calendar, never backwards.
The August bank holiday always falls on the last Monday of August in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and on the first Monday of August in Scotland.
2018 Bank holiday and public holiday dates
- New Year's Day: Monday, January 1
- Good Friday: Friday, March 30
- Easter Monday: Monday, April 2
- Early May bank holiday: Monday, May 7
- Spring bank holiday: Monday, May 28
- Summer bank holiday: Monday, August 27
- Christmas Day: Tuesday, December 25
- Boxing Day: Wednesday, December 26
This is perhaps the most ancient public holiday in existence, with roots in the Roman celebrations of flora and the goddess of flowers. It is a stopping point between winter and summer, marking May as the month of fertility and renewal.
Typical May Day activities include Morris dancing and may pole dances on idyllic village greens, pub gardens, and high streets.
Many modern-day festivities continue to embrace some aspects of May Day's folkloric roots. These include The Clun Green Man Festival, Shropshire, and Hasting's Jack-in-the-Green Festival. Both feature performances and parades filled with leafy costumes and green decoration.
When May Day became a public holiday in 1971, the date was also associated with International Workers' Rights day, despite its pagan roots. In reality, this holiday harks back to a time when the UK was an agricultural society.
In 2011, the UK government briefly considered scrapping the May bank holiday, in replacement for a 'UK Day' in October. However the May Day holiday remains.
Will we get a day off for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding?
Unfortunately, Downing Street have said there are no plans to give Britons a day off for the royal wedding, despite giving one when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge got married in 2011 and when the Prince of Wales married Diana, Princess of Wales in 1981.
However Brits will still be able to celebrate at home as the wedding falls on Saturday, May 19. Plus, pubs and bars will be allowed to stay open until 1am on Friday May 18 and the day of the wedding itself.
Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, who opened a consultation on the plans in January, said: “The Royal wedding will be a time of national celebration, and we want everyone to be able to make the most of such an historic occasion.
“I hope that this relaxation of the licensing hours will allow people to extend their festivities and come together to mark what will be a very special moment for the country.”
How can you maximise your annual leave?
Our – on average – 26 days of paid holiday per year have us Britons feeling more relaxed than employees in the USA (15 days) and Japan (20 days).
But we are almost a week worse off than our counterparts in France, Spain and Germany (30 days) when it comes to fleeing the office.
All the more reason, then, to make the most of your bank holidays. This year, there’s an easy way to get 24 glorious, work-free days off in a row using just 14 days of your precious holiday allowance.
However, there's a small caveat: the holiday hack only works if your job doesn't require you to work at weekends and you also get all your bank holidays off.
So if you need an extended break, Easter could be a good time to go away, taking into account the May Day bank holiday on the 7th and the Late May Bank Holiday on the 28th
Here’s the full breakdown:
A similar calendar quirk helped workers get 18 days off using just nine days of annual leave last year.
Alternatively, you could book eight days holiday to get 16 days off in a row:
Other key dates of 2018
As well as the days we get off from work, here are other key dates of 2018 to keep in mind:
- Valentine's Day: Wednesday, February 14
- St David's Day: Thursday, March 1
- St Patrick's Day: Saturday, March 17
- Mothering Sunday: Sunday, March 11
- St George's Day: Monday, April 23
- Father's Day: Sunday, June 17
- Halloween: Wednesday, October 31
- Guy Fawkes Night: Monday, November 5
- St Andrew's Day: Friday, November 30
School term dates 2018
Spring term 2018
- School starts: Thursday, January 4
- Half term break: Monday, February 12 to Friday, February 16
- Last day of term: Wednesday, March 28 (Easter falls on Sunday, April 1)
Summer term 2018
- School starts: Monday, April 16
- Half term break: Monday, May 28, to Friday, June 1
- Last day of term: Friday, July 27
Autumn term 2018
- School starts: Monday, September 3
- Half term break: Monday, October 22 to Friday, October 26
- Last day of term: Friday, December 21