In honour of the traditional family argument about whether Christmas Day is a bank holiday or not, I shall be wittering on about it for a while. The UK government web site on Bank Holidays, lists it as a bank holiday. Incorrectly, although it’s understandable why it does.
The Act of Parliament currently in force establishing “bank holidays” is the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which lists the following as bank holidays :-
The following are to be bank holidays in England and Wales :-
The last Monday in May.
The last Monday in August.
26th December, if it not be a Sunday.
27th December in a year in which 25th or 26th December is a Sunday.
Note how the 25th doesn’t appear! Within the text of the Act, it also states :-
No person shall be compellable to make any payment or to do any act on a bank holiday under this Act which he would not be compellable to make or do on Christmas Day or Good Friday
There are of course other missing bank holidays which are proclaimed on a yearly basis by the queen, but Christmas Day and Good Friday are special – they’re Common Law holidays that have been taken as public holidays since time immemorial (6 July 1189) as traditional customary holidays.
Those two days appear many times in legislation dealing with restrictions on what can be carried out on those days, but nowhere is it declared that they are public holidays – it is just assumed.
There used to be a good deal more customary holidays – in 1833 the Bank of England shut for 33 days a year but in 1834 shut for just 4. When bank holidays were first established in 1871, they were intended as public holidays but were expressed in financial terms – specifically so banks couldn’t be declared bankrupt for not being able to process a promissory note or a bill of exchange.
Which is why we call them “Bank” holidays. And why they aren’t strictly speaking “holidays” for workers – they are really just holidays for banks as there is no guarantee that you can take a bank holiday off work.