End of Term

So here we are, then. The last day of term has finally arrived.  Many of our students will be out partying tonight before they start a three-week break with little to disturb their relaxation but project reports, assignments and examination revision. Probably not all that relaxing at all then, especially for the final-year students.

For various reasons I’ve found this term very heavy going and am  looking forward to spending some time away over the next couple of weeks.  More about that in due course, assuming I have internet access…

The curious thing about the academic year is that since most UK universities switched to a semester system we’ve had to cope with the fact that Easter isn’t on a fixed calendar date. Last year, Easter was rather late so we managed to squeeze in a full 11 weeks teaching in before the vacation started. This year we’ve only got time for 9 weeks, so we resume teaching in three weeks’ time for another two weeks, followed by a revision week and the examination period. I think most students probably agree with me that this hiatus is extremely annoying.

This year Good Friday is on 6th April (a week today) and Easter Monday on 9th April; both are statutory (“bank”) holidays in the UK. Most universities have felt obliged to move their recess so that these two holidays occur outside term-time.

If I had my way we would have fixed semester dates so this nonsense of a 9+2 week teaching semester wouldn’t happen. Last year’s 11-week uninterrupted run was a slog, but I much prefer it over the stop-start affair we’re having this year.

I was a visiting professor at an American university over one Easter period many years ago. Given the fact that the Christian lobby is far more powerful over there than it is here I was quite surprised by the fact that there’s no real interruption for Easter. Lectures were held on Good Friday and there’s no Easter Monday holiday. Easter Sunday was definitely observed, but that had no effect on teaching.

The two Bank Holidays are a bit of a problem, of course, especially because they are followed by two more in May. However, when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, we had lectures as normal on bank holidays.  I’m not sure whether that practice was restricted to Oxbridge colleges – where term dates are different to elsewhere anyway – or some other Universities did the same. I don’t even know if Oxbridge still carries on over bank holidays today…

A better solution would be to distribute the statutory holidays more evenly through the year so they weren’t concentrated so inconveniently in Spring. There would be  nothing to stop Christians taking a day’s leave in order to observe Good Friday, of course.

But since only a minority of British people are practising Christians, why are the rest of us forced to arrange our calendars according to archaic and irrelevant rituals?  Far better, in my opinion,  to give us all a day off for the start of the cricket season…

Grumble over, it just remains for me to wish my loyal readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers) all the best for the recess, and I hope it’s a good night at the Student Ball tonight!

16 Responses to “End of Term”

  1. “I was a visiting professor at an American university over one Easter period many years ago. Given the fact that the Christian lobby is far more powerful over there than it is here I was quite surprised by the fact that there’s no real interruption for Easter.”

    I think this is down to the fact that in the US there are very few holidays (i.e. days when people don’t have to work). In Germany, 24 is IIRC the legal minimum and 30 is common (this is personal time in addition to holidays such as 1 January etc) while in the States even people with regular jobs have just 10 days. Similarly, other holidays are fewer in number as well.

    Another aspect is that, whatever the religious makeup of the population today, many things reflect the wishes of the Pilgrims. In their religion, and in many Protestant religions (especially of the American variety), Easter isn’t as important a holiday as it is in, say, the Catholic church.

    What probably affects both the number of religious holidays and the number of non-religious holidays (i.e. ‘vacation’ in the States) is the Pilgrim/Protestant idea that work is good and idle hands do the Devil’s business, so the fewer holidays the better.

    There is an appropriate Benny Hill clip but I can’t find it on You Tube. (I think this regret will go down in history together with Fermat’s complaint that the margin was too narrow!)

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The protestant idea is not so much that work is good (toil to get food from the land, or money to buy it, is explicitly said to be a curse in Genesis 3) but that work is to be sanctified. Do it diligently and conscientiously as if Jesus were your boss. Manual work is also looked on as good, a distinctively Hebraic ethos that contrasts with the classical Greek ethos that thinking is the highest form of work and elevates Management over those they manage.

      In the New Testament, whether to follow a church calendar is a private choice for each believer. There is no command to celebrate Easter, let alone Christmas.

      Peter, congrats on being the Featured Blog in the April Physics World!

      • As you say, the classical Greek ethos. As Carl Sagan pointed out in Cosmos (though of course he wasn’t the first to do so), this was the school of thought which survived (i.e. became classical) from ancient Greece, but was only one of many. Other schools of thought were much more down-to-Earth. Sagan speculates that there might have been a connection between the idea of the mind as being superior to the body and the acceptance of slavery. Why did this school of thought survive? At least partly because works of others were burned. Book- (or scroll-) burning has quite a long tradition.

      • telescoper Says:

        I just read the online version. The write-up is very nice. Do I have to pay someone now?

      • telescoper Says:

        Am I really? I haven’t got my copy yet….

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Unless you want to stick to GMT, could you move the blog clock forward an hour?

      • telescoper Says:

        Now there’s a problem with time-ordering…

  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    Easter Day (Easter Sunday) can occur on any date between 22 March and 25 April (inclusive). It was last on 22 March in 1818 and will be next in 2285. It was last on 25 April in 1943 and will be next in 2038.

    Easter was very late last year, on 24 April. It was very early in 2008, on 23 March.

    I just thought I’d mention it.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      It doesn’t in general coincide with the Jewish Passover any more (as did the Crucifixion) because the Christians reckon the Jews are not determining the date of Passover correctly. To add to the confusion, some churches still go by the Julian calendar. I said above that there is no command to celebrate Easter in the New Testament, so I am happy for other believers to, or not. I dispute with believers who tell me I should, as my personal choice is not to. I prefer to celebrate these events internally and continually.

      The name Easter is lousy; it comes from the Anglo-Saxon name of the relevant month, which Bede said is derived from an ancient goddess called Eostre; this is probably via the Anglo-Saxon name for springtide. It entered English Bibles via Tyndale’s translation and it persisted in the King James Bible in one place (Acts 12:4). But the Greek New Testament, and the Latin Vulgate Bible, called it Pascha. This name is based on the Hebrew for Passover and is much better.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Yes, the issue of the method of calculating the date of Easter is very relevant here. I assumed, without stating it, the modern western Christian definition (as used by Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists and many other Christian denominations, and for civil purposes here in Britain). I used some algorithm based on this definition to calculate the dates.

      The date of Easter, of course, caused much controversy in the early Church, and within Britain was a cause of conflict between the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic church. Was it the pretext for an Anglo-Saxon invasion of Cornwall?

      I had not understand the origin of the name Easter, having been puzzled by the sharp difference between the English word and that in most other European languages.

    • Anton Garrett Says:


      Yes, the date of Easter was the main issue of contention at the Synod of Whitby in AD664. The ‘celtic’ church in the British Isles (founded early from links with the Mediterranean and then left alone when the legions withdrew) accepted the dating of the Church of Rome and its missionaries – a decision which symbolised general acceptance by the celtic church of Roman ecclesiastical authority, to my regret.

      What was the Cornish tale, please?

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        I have some memory of reading somewhere that the difference in the method of calculating the date of Easter was the justification used by a king of Wessex (I think) to invade Cornwall (or possibly Dumnonia), perhaps the final annexation of Cornwall (or Dumnonia) by Wessex. The trouble is that I can’t remember where I read it – or, more importantly, whether the account is likely to be authoritative (which is unhelpful here).


  3. The calculation of the date of Easter is written up in this excellent book 😉 http://bit.ly/pawycos

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      I’m afraid I didn’t use that one: I used Astronomical Algorithms by Jean Meeus (which used the Spencer Jones method of 1922).

      I did it in 2008 after the very early Easter of that year.

  4. Lauren M P Says:

    I’m a current Physics student at Oxford, and we still completely ignore the bank holidays, having both lectures, labs and tutorials on bank holidays. I’ve often wondered why the staff accept this, or whether they get time in lieu. As an aside, the English students don’t seem to work on any Mondays.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t think they get time in lieu, but teaching terms are so short at Oxbridge there’s hardly any need. 😉

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