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Why are UK bank holidays always on a Monday except Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day?

I ask, because this year, May Day Bank Holiday is next week on Monday when there is a Friday between 1st May and May Day Bank Holiday.

  • This should be a statistic question en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer-expectancy_effect – mootmoot May 2 at 13:02
  • This isn't an answer, but note that the May Day bank holiday is always the first Monday in May. – Steve Melnikoff May 2 at 14:17
  • @SteveMelnikoff Currently that event is publicised as the Early May bank holiday in Government literature, rather than May Day, but that's a different political question. – origimbo May 2 at 15:34
  • @mootmoot No, they're essentially defined to be on Mondays, with the exception of the three listed (for England; plus a couple of others in other parts of the UK). – David Richerby May 3 at 11:21
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    You also skipped New Year Day, which also doesn't always fall on a Monday. So it's actually 4 Mondays, and 4 moving days - at least for England – SztupY May 3 at 12:21
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They are not.

Some surprises for you:

  • Some of the days that you think to be bank holidays actually are not.
  • Of the remaining ones that are, a good fraction are not always on a Monday.
  • And it all varies according to what country (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) one is in.

What is a bank holiday was governed by the Bank Holidays Act 1871 (and several subsequent Extensions Acts) until the enactment of the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 a century later, which repealed and replaced it. This Act defines what a bank holiday is, contains a schedule of the default bank holidays, and empowers the monarch (except in Northern Ireland where it is the Secretary of State) to modify the dates for a given year or to add add one-off dates to this list at whim.

This Act is the source of the first surprise. Good Friday and Christmas Day are not bank holidays, despite what you may see on many lists of U.K. bank holidays. The Act defines what a bank holiday is, and it does so in terms of a bank holiday being as free of compulsions to do banking stuff as Good Friday and Christmas Day are. Good Friday and Christmas Day were special for banking, like Sunday was, long before the idea of bank holidays was invented. They are not listed in the Act as bank holidays. Rather, bank holidays are defined to be further additional days that are like Good Friday and Christmas Day already were.

In the lists of bank holidays in Schedule 1 one can see the second and third surprises.

They are different for England+Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Only 3/5 of the England+Wales bank holidays are defined to be Mondays, the other 2/5 are calendar days. Indeed, the Act explicitly spells out that these calendar days are not always Mondays, by making provisions for what should happen if they are Sundays. (Hence only one of the 2/5 can actually occur in any given year.) It's furthermore a straight 3/6 and 3/6 split for Northern Ireland; and 2/7 Mondays, 1/7 Fridays, and 4/7 calendar days for Scotland.

This is not always Mondays. It is not even mostly Mondays for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

(Yes, the schedule lists Good Friday and Christmas Day for Scotland. Scotland had different legal traditions, meaning that these days did have to be explicitly made bank holidays. This is a flaw in the legislation, a circular definition of what a bank holiday is in Scotland, that seems to have been overlooked.)

This schedule, with only some of the bank holidays always being Mondays, is what you get unless the monarch proclaims otherwise. Since 1974, the monarch has regularly added some additional days, year after year; but, similarly, they are not always Mondays.

  • One regularly added day is always a Monday (the last Monday in May in Scotland, the first Monday in May everywhere else)
  • One regularly added day is not always a Monday, however, and is a calendar day (Boxing Day in Scotland, New Year's Day everywhere else).

This convention is simply harmonizing the lists somewhat across the countries. It makes 4/7 Mondays and 3/7 calendar days (only 2 of which can ever occur in any given year) in England+Wales; and 3/8 Mondays, 1/8 Fridays, and 4/8 calendar days in Scotland.

If you read the 2018 Proclamation for 2019 you will find that it only adds these conventional additions, and makes no mention of the days that are already bank holidays per the Act, nor any mention of the days that are not bank holidays at all (except in Scotland). Contrary to the claim by St George International given in another answer, some days are not legally bank holidays, bank holidays are defined by statute, and only modifications and additions are proclaimed, albeit that it has been (at minimum) the same two added days every year for almost half a century now.

Maybe by the 150th anniversary of the original Act in 2021 someone will think to bring these long-standing conventions into statute, and fix the circular definition bug for Scotland at the same time.

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    This answer is needlessly nit-picky. Here is a UK government website listing bank holidays, and it includes Christmas Day and Good Friday. Maybe they are not bank holidays is some strict legal sense, but they are in the way the term "bank holiday" is normally used. – Tor Klingberg May 3 at 9:02
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    Sorry but in common parlance in the UK, "bank holiday" means "any kind of national day off work except the weekend." Yes, you're technically correct that many public holidays aren't actually bank holidays, that isn't helpful to the question. – David Richerby May 3 at 11:20
  • Wanted to downvote but not enough rep. It's a detailed answer but doesn't really address the question I think is being asked: Why are most national non-working days on Monday – Will Appleby May 3 at 12:45
  • While this answer is very interesting it doesn't address the question of why things like the may bank holidays, and august bank holiday are on a monday. It feels unlikely that it was just coincidence that these days all happen to be mondays... – Chris May 3 at 13:44
  • This is a brillian answer that does go a long way to explain 'why mondays'. – Pureferret May 3 at 13:56
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From St George International:

Why are Bank Holidays on a Monday?

Each year, the dates of Bank Holidays are stated by royal proclamation. This means that HRH The Queen tells the UK government in an official letter which days will be national holidays in the coming year. This is tradition, but it means that the 'moveable holidays' around Easter will always be put on a Monday so that no holiday is lost, which happens in other countries around the world when a national holiday date happens on a Saturday or Sunday that year.

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    You'd think that a site like that would know it's HM The Queen, not HRH. – Andrew Leach May 2 at 18:46
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    @AndrewLeach: Indeed. Also, while in theory, the Queen tells the government, in practice, the government advises the Queen to issue the proclamation - and as is often discussed here, that is true for almost all of the Queen's powers. – Steve Melnikoff May 3 at 10:06
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    This doesn't really feel like it answers the question. Why are they on a monday? Because somebody said that they should be on a Monday. But why did they say that? If the answer is lost to history that is fair enough but should probably be stated.... – Chris May 3 at 13:46

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