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?

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.

Halloween in the UK

Halloween picture

Halloween is celebrated across the UK on 31st October. It used to be called All Hallows Eve; the day before All Saints Day, which is observed on 1st November. Halloween’s origins lie in the pagan festivals traditionally held at the end of October across the British Isles. The Samhain festival, observed on this day, was the most significant of the Celtic year, marking the beginning of winter. It was believed the people who had died in the previous year made their journey into the Otherworld; animals, fruits and vegetables were sacrificed and bonfires lit to aid the spirits on their way. People believed the veil between this world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest on Samhain and so the spirits of dead people could return to walk among the living for one night a year. To ward off any spirits, people only ventured outside in spooky or ghostly costumes.

Today, as a result of this pagan tradition, many people in the UK host Halloween parties where guests are invited to dress up – usually as skeletons, ghosts, vampires or other scary figures. Many people also play apple bobbing, where a bucket filled with water and some apples. Players take it in turns to catch an apple between their teeth, with their hands held behind their back at all times. It’s great fun and you should give it a try if you have the chance. Traditionally the first person to catch an apple will be the next person to get married!

Other popular symbols of the festival include bats, spiders and pumpkins. People carve pumpkins which are lit by a candle inside and called Jack O’ Lanterns. The tradition stems from Irish folklore. The tale goes that a clever but lazy man called Jack was due to die on Halloween. When the devil came to collect his soul, Jack tricked him into turning himself into a shilling. Jack instantly grabbed the coin with his hand, which bore a cross-shaped scar, and trapped the devil inside. He only agreed to let the devil out if he granted him one more year of life. After returning one year later, the next Halloween, Jack tricked the devil again. This time it was into climbing into a tree which Jack then carved a cross on, trapping the devil inside. He only set the devil free after he agreed to give Jack ten more years of life. When Jack eventually died, St. Peter refused to grant him entry into heaven, as he had never performed a selfless act in his life and a seething Satan refused to claim his soul. The devil tossed a burning coal into a hollowed out pumpkin and he banished Jack to wander the world forever. You may spot his pumpkin on Halloween night!

Whatever you are doing, I hope you have a spectacularly spooky Halloween!

A guest post by David Heffer – a student ambassador helping in the International Office.