The history of Christmas and work

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin.  “But I suppose you must have the whole day.  Be here all the earlier next morning.”

Scrooge to his clerk in Dickens Christmas Carol

Until 1871 there were no bank or public holidays in the UK.  There was no statutory entitlement to annual leave.  When Scrooge complained about giving his clerk a paid day off he was doing something that was customary but not legally required.

In 1871 an act of parliament created four bank and public holidays:  Easter Monday, August bank holiday, Boxing Day and Whit Monday.  Scotland had different holidays and had New Years Day and Christmas day from this point on.

During the 1970s more additional holidays were added until we got to the basic eight bank and public holidays in the calendar today for England and Wales.

There is no general legal right to take these days as holiday – though taking them can count towards statutory annual leave, introducing under Working Time Regulations in 1998 .

Staff may be contracted to work on bank and public holidays.   Most employers offer premium or overtime rates for these days, though there is no general legal need to do so.   Increasingly with variable rosters and annual working hours, bank and public holidays are part of the normal working week.

Employers have the right under working time regulations to ‘designate’ leave (tell staff when they must take leave).  Many arrange an annual shut down for the gap between Christmas and New Year and require employees to save some of their annual leave for this period.

If you are planning Christmas arrangements for work, check out our humorous post from HR.

Merry Christmas – whether you are working or not.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website :  You can follow Annabel on twitter –

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