Celebrating New Years in the UK

New Years Eve is celebrated on 31st December in many countries across the globe, including in the UK. For many, it is one of the biggest party nights of the year with events held in homes, pubs, bars and venues nationwide. Lots of people prefer to host parties at home, avoiding the crowds and costs of official parties, where canapés and champagne are served to toast in the New Year. Modern celebrations originate from Midwinter celebrations which were held across the British Isles since ancient times. These parties involved food and the lighting of big fires to tempt the sun to return.

Like many other cities, London hosts a spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display. Every year, 250,000 people gather along the banks of the River Thames to see the fireworks launched from the London Eye, Big Ben and rafts on the river, with the capital city’s skyline providing a stunning backdrop to the display. The image of Big Ben chiming at midnight has become synonymous with the New Year celebration and is televised across the world.

Wherever they are, people turn on a radio or television just before midnight to see the countdown of the last few minutes of the old year.  As the clock strikes midnight, people often hug and kiss each other (even strangers) and it is traditional to sing Auld Lang Syne. This is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns sung along to the tune of a traditional folk song, which sees everyone cross their arms over each other before joining hands, and dancing.

Check out this YouTube video of Auld Lang Syne:

In Wales, Calennig is celebrated over New Year which includes a parade through Cardiff and the ancient custom of giving gifts and money on New Year’s morning, surviving to this day in the form of giving bread and cheese. In Scotland (where New Years is known as Hogmanay) and some parts of Northern England, people spend the last few hours of 31st December preparing to be or receive first-footers. A first-footer is the first person to cross the entrance of a home after the start of the New Year. They traditionally bring gifts to bring luck, such as whiskey, shortbread, coal and fruit cake which are shared amongst the guests. The focus of Hogmanay, one of the world’s most famous New Year celebrations, are in Edinburgh which hosts a huge street party along Princes Street, with  cannon fire  at Edinburgh Castle marking midnight, followed by a large fireworks display. Some smaller towns in Scotland like Stonehaven hold Fireball Festivals beginning at midnight, where giant balls of fire are swung by participants in a parade down the High Street, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Celebrations held across the UK often go on the early hours of New Year’s Day morning. The 1st January is a public holiday across the country (with a second public holiday on the 2nd January for Scotland) which allows people to recover from the late night. Many spend the day with family and friends, sometimes enjoying big roast dinner. Others visit the local high street to take advantage of the January sales (which now tend to start on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day) to grab a bargain. On New Year’s Day, a million spectators line the streets to watch the London parade, the biggest New Year’s Day event of its kind, honouring people from all the different boroughs in the city.

At this time of year, some people choose to make a New Year’s resolution, which is a promise that you make to yourself to stop doing something bad, or start doing something good, on the first day of the year. This might be joining a gym to get fit, or to quit smoking.

What New Year’s resolution will you be making this year?

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Christmas in the UK

Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in the UK. Despite being a Christian holiday, it is also celebrated almost universally outside the religious community and by a growing number of non-Christians too.

This post will tell you all you need to know about Christmas in the UK.

The Christmas season is the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, believed to be the son of God in the Christian faith, making his birth an important date in the Christian calendar. According to popular tradition, the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph travelled on a donkey from their home in Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, to pay their taxes and take part in a census. On their arrival in Bethlehem, they found that all of the rooms across the city were full. Wherever they tried to find lodging, they were told, “There is no room at the inn”. Eventually, one innkeeper allowed them to spend the night in his stable. That night Mary gave birth to Jesus in the stable, surrounded by farm animals, where she laid him in a manger. Shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel and were the first to visit the baby. Three wise men also visited Jesus in the manger, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, which they believed signalled the birth of a King of the Jews. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby.

There are many services and traditions in churches associated with Christmas, however I will focus on the more secular traditions followed by most people in the UK.

The run up to Christmas is my favourite part of the year, and while many shops start preparing for Christmas in early autumn, I start celebrating at the beginning of December. In fact, while I am writing this, the International Office is decked out with tinsel and snowflakes! The most typical Christmas decoration is the Christmas tree, which became popular in England after Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought a Christmas tree over from his native Germany. The royal family were shown standing around the tree in a newspaper, and so the tradition began. This huge one is in the Business School here at MMU.

photo

I also love Christmas songs, ranging from the religious carols sung by choirs and in church, to the secular favourites played on the radio throughout December. Here are some links to my favourites; the first two are traditional carols you might hear in a carol service.

O Come All Ye Faithful

Silent Night

The next two are popular Christmas songs that are heard everywhere all December. Feed the World is a charity Christmas song originally released in 1984 to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia.

Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas

Wham – Last Christmas

Manchester is an amazing place to be at Christmas time with the beautiful decorations in the city centre, two temporary outdoor ice rinks and the world famous Christmas markets. If you only do one thing in Manchester for Christmas, wander through over 300 chalet style stalls selling intricate gifts, sample a hog roll, Bratwurst sausage or crepe, and soak in the festive atmosphere.

One of the main traditions of Christmas is gift giving. Typically people buy presents for their family and friends, wrap them in Christmas paper (decorated with religious or secular pictures or phrases) and place them under the tree to be opened on Christmas morning. Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, delivers presents to children during Christmas Eve night and places them either under the Christmas tree, or in Christmas stockings. He delivers presents to children across the world by flying his sleigh – pulled by nine reindeer, led by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – and going down the chimney. Many homes leave out a glass of whisky and a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for his reindeer, to re-fuel before the continue on their journey.

Christmas in my house involves opening my presents from Father Christmas with my brother as soon as we wake up. We then go downstairs and open our presents from family and friends with our parents and Grandma. Afterwards, we eat a big cooked breakfast and put the Christmas dinner in the oven. While my Mum and Grandma cook, my Dad, brother and I go to the village pub to say hello to our friends over a quick drink. We return to the house to help with the last preparations for the Christmas dinner of turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, pigs in blankets, stuffing, Brussels sprouts and cranberry or bread sauce. Before we eat the dinner, we pull Christmas crackers, telling the jokes, and wearing the paper crowns found inside them. After dinner, my family settle down to watch a classic Christmas film. My personal favourites are the very British Love Actually, Elf and The Snowman.

If you do not celebrate Christmas you might be wondering what to do on Christmas day while most people are with their families. A popular thing to do is to go for a Chinese meal followed by a trip to the cinema. Chinatown and Rusholme will be very busy with the sizeable proportion of Mancunians who do not celebrate Christmas, so why not gather some friends and go out for a big lunch or dinner? Alternatively, cook up a traditional Christmas dinner and see what all the fuss is about!

Tell us about the Christmas traditions in your own country or about what happens in your favourite holiday in the comments section below.

Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays if you do not celebrate!

An insider’s guide to Manchester

Eating out

The Curry Mile, Rusholme, Manchester

The Curry Mile, Rusholme, Manchester

There are great cafes on campus at MMU serving a selection of sandwiches, snacks and hot meals at rock-bottom prices. The coffee is good too and cheap at £1.45 for a latte. To avoid crowds, go to Couch Potato food-truck outside All Saints Park; the usual greasy stuff but grab a hot dog with onions for £1! Oxford Road has many popular spots to eat – too many to mention – so it’s best just to go exploring! Walk down Oxford Road (or jump on a bus) and you reach the famed Curry Mile, so called because of number of Asian and Middle eastern restaurants, takeaways and kebab shops found on it. The largest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside the Indian subcontinent, with over 70 establishments in a one half mile stretch, there is tonnes of choice.

Dogs'n'dough restaurant, Manchester

Dogs’n’dough restaurant, Manchester

If you want something different, Dogs n Dough is a basement restaurant offering gourmet hot dogs, or pizza served in a takeaway box. On Sundays, you get free sides with any main! Hunters BBQ is a late-night café specialising in game curries. Grubby chic at its best, enjoy mismatched crockery, cheap cutlery and a slightly tatty interior as you tuck into pheasant, rabbit, venison or even quail! If you’re having one of those days deciding what you fancy, head to The Printworks, home to countless restaurants to choose from.

The Printworks, Manchester

The Printworks, Manchester

Nightlife

With 85,000 students, the social scene in Manchester is vast, but there are a few hubs to head towards. Oxford Road (known as the Student Quarter) is stretches 2 miles down to the Curry Mile, and littered with superb places, many offering deals on food & drink. The Northern Quarter is another lively area well worth a visit with a bewildering choice of bars. Whether you’re gay or straight, the Village – scattered around the famous Canal St – has over 25 friendly, tolerant venues offering great music and atmosphere.

Music

For a city which gave us the likes of Oasis, The Chemical Brothers, The Smiths, Happy Mondays and Simply Red, music is a big deal here. You will find live music played regularly in the hundreds of bars and pubs across the city. For big names in the music industry, a must-stop is the Phones4U Arena (or the Manchester Arena) – one of the busiest music venues in the world.

The National Football Museum and Old Trafford Football Stadium, home of MUFC

Top: The National Football Museum
Bottom: Old Trafford, home of MUFC

Sport

Sport is an important part of Mancunian life, with the bitter rivalry between two of England’s great clubs; Manchester United and Manchester City. A tour of the Trafford and Etihad stadiums are well worth it for footy fans. The National Football Museum is open 7 days a week and home to the world’s greatest football collection with over 140,000 items to see. The 2002 Commonwealth Games left a lasting sporting legacy in the city including fantastic venues like the City of Manchester Stadium, the Manchester Velodrome, the National Squash Centre and the Manchester Aquatics Centre. Rugby League is popular in the North West so why not check out a game, or watch a cricket match at the 155 year-old Old Trafford ground, one of the most famous in the world!

The Arndale and Trafford Shopping Centres

Top: The Arndale Shopping Centre
Bottom: The Trafford Centre

Shopping

Shopping is a huge draw for anybody coming to Manchester. There are two massive shopping malls, the Arndale (2nd biggest shopping centre in the UK boasting Europe’s biggest food court and UK’s busiest cinema ) and Trafford Centre (6th biggest but the most visited, with 41 million visitors.) Both contain hundreds of shops including all the big names. Afflecks Palace is must-see gem full of vintage and quirky stores. If you aren’t shopping, it’s still a great place to look around. The area surroudning it boasts more vintage stores, haberdasheries and vinyl exchanges. Spinningfields is home to some of the more upmarket shops like All Saints, Armani and Ted Baker – the destination to go if you are looking to treat yourself.

John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library

Hidden gems

A must-see is the stunning John Ryland’s Library. Regarded as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s Gothic style architecture – inside and out – transforms you to a different world. It may not be an obvious destination, but it is one of the most impressive with great exhibitions alongside medieval illuminated manuscripts dating to the 1400’s, making it an amazing space to learn, visit and study in!

Ski or snowboard on the UK’s longest indoor slope at Chill Factore or indoor-skydive next door at Airkix. For something more relaxing, check out Heaton Park with an historic hall, farm and animal centre, boating lake and tram museum to visit. On rare sunny days, head to St. Johns gardens – just off Lower Byrom St – a little known green oasis is in the heart of the city, perfect for a picnic! Wherever you are in the city, you will see the rolling hills of the Pennines on the horizon. Never forget that the Peak District is literally on your door step – a short car or train journey – will take you to some of the most beautiful, idyllic countryside the UK has to offer!

Manchester horizon and Peak District

Top: Manchester horizon
Bottom: Peak District

Tell us about your favourite places in Manchester in the comment’s section below!

 

A guest blog by David Heffer.

Behind the scenes of an MMU International live tour!

I’ve written about Connect to MMU before on this blog. Connect to MMU is a series of informative and interesting online events which give international students the chance to learn more about MMU and being a student here. As part of Connect to MMU we run live tours of our faculties to give prospective international students an insight into where and what they might study.

Yesterday we broadcast a live tour of the School of Art’s impressive new Benzie Building. You can see a recording of the tour here.

Although the Benzie Building is the new School of Art building, there are excellent facilities for art students in the Grosvenor and Chatham buildings too. For example, the Chatham building has a glass hot shop, ceramics and plaster, wood, metal and chemical workshops, laser cutting, a 3D printer, animation suites, photography resources including a darkroom, art studios and the amazing Holden Gallery.

Zee is our friendly student tour guide, and he loves to show prospective international students around MMU. Check out the pictures below for a sneak peek behind the scenes of our School of Art live tour!

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Our camera woman Lara frames the opening shot of the tour.

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Lara and tour guide Zee share a joke as they start the tour.

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Zee answers a student’s question on the stairs in the Benzie Building.

 

A new director for MMU International!

We have a new Director of International here at MMU!

Stephen Parkin was appointed as Director in October 2013. Before joining MMU International, Stephen has worked at a number of UK universities and also StudyGroup. Before starting his career in Higher Education in the UK, Stephen taught English in various countries including China, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Stephen says “I am delighted to be working at such as great university in the heart of Manchester to help develop Manchester’s International profile”.

SP