Big ben with sunset

Nowadays, Britain looks on as a plethora of religions, ethnicities and cultures celebrate their traditions in this now-diverse nation. But why is it that we don’t have our own?

The first point of blame might be colonialism. British fashion, for example, was spread worldwide, carried overseas by explorers to the Americas and Asia. We have seen the traditional British three-piece suit be popularised as formalwear since colonisation and become standard attire for business people across the globe. Because of this, we have no equivalent to the traditional Korean hanbok, Japanese kimono or South Asian sari. Then again, we also have few festivals to wear such garments for. Many countries still wear their traditional dress as everyday clothing, particularly in Africa and Asia. However, can we blame colonialism if other colonising countries have retained their cultural dress? German tracht such as dirndl and lederhosen are still worn for cultural festivals, as are Spanish traje de flamenca for Ferias in the south. Indeed even the cultural stereotype of tea-drinking in Britain is ironically colonialist in itself – tea being a Chinese export.

Why do we not see Morris dancers the way the Spanish see flamenco dancers? Britons seem to care less for their heritage than people from other cultures, which could explain the lack of retention of our traditions. It appears that the British culture we do retain is modern, rather than traditional and rather tongue-in-cheek. A quick search on Google for ‘British traditions’ brings results such as ‘putting the kettle on’ and ‘going to the pub’. British icons such as Ali G and Vicky Pollard seem to be at the front of our minds when we think of ‘British culture’, which says a lot about how we perceive ourselves. It appears that other countries perceive us better than we perceive ourselves, such as Americans loving the stereotypes of tea and Harry Potter. The popularisation and romanticisation of the ‘regency’ period has recently taken off, with the rise of period dramas like Bridgerton and Pride and Prejudice, however Brits still wouldn’t dress in these costumes unless they were fans of the show.

The London Olympics 2012 is a good example of Britain’s positive self-perception. The opening ceremony told the story of pagan, agricultural Britain, and the subsequent Industrial Revolution. It displayed Britain’s key inventions, such as cricket and football, the motorcar, the telephone, and the internet. Stories of the Suffragette Movement and World Wars were also featured as defining cultural moments in British history. This representation makes Britain appear militant and industrial, contrasting greatly with the serene portrayal of Japan in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The second segment focused on elements of modern British ‘culture’; how most Brits perceive themselves. With music from the Beatles, David Bowie and Queen, and appearances by characters such as James Bond and Mr Bean, it appears that British culture is more frequently seen through its contributions to art and music in the last 100 years.

We are lucky that in today’s day and age we have the ability to witness beautiful celebrations from other cultures, such as Diwali, Eid and Chinese New Year, but it is a shame that we didn’t cling on to traditions we could call our own. This is likely due to a step away from Christianity, a loss to post-Imperial states, and a certain degree of ignorance – it’s hard to imagine the average British teenager wanting to participate in a barn dance.