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There is a very special royal tradition. On the River Thames there are hundreds of swans.
A lot of these beautiful white birds belong, traditionally, to the king or queen. In July the young swans on the Thames are about two months old. Then the Queen’s swan keeper goes, in a boat, from London Bridge to Henley. He looks at all the young swans and marks the royal ones. The name of this strange but interesting custom is Swan Upping.
The Trooping of the Colour
The Queen is the only person in Britain with two birthdays. Her real birthday is on April 21st, but she has an "official" birthday, too. That's on the second Saturday in June. And on the Queen's official birthday, there is a traditional ceremony called the Trooping of the Colour. It's a big parade with brass bands and hundreds of soldiers at Horse Guards' Parade in London. A "regiment" of the Queen's soldiers, the Guards, march in front of her. At the front of the parade is the regiment's flag or "colour". The Guards are trooping the colour. Thousands of Londoners and visitors watch in Horse Guards' Parade. And millions of people at home watch it on television.
The Changing of the Guard
This happens every day at Buckingham Palace, the Queen's home in London. Soldiers stand in front of the palace. Each morning these soldiers (the "guard") change. One group leaves and another arrives. In summer and winter tourists stand outside the palace at 11.30 every morning and watch the Changing of the Guard.
Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday, at Easter. On that day the Queen gives Maundy money to a group of old people. This tradition is over 1,000 years old. At one time the king or queen washed the feet of poor, old people on Maundy Thursday. That stopped in 1754.
The Queen’s Telegram
This custom is not very old, but it's for very old people. On his or her one hundredth birthday, a British person gets a telegram from the Queen. The Birthday Honours List and The Year’s Honours List Twice a year at Buckingham Palace, the Queen gives titles or "honours", once in January and once in June. There are a lot of different honours. Here are a few:
C.B.E. - Companion of the British Empire
O.B.E. - Order of the British Empire
M.B.E. - Member of the British Empire
(These honours began in the nineteenth century. Then Britain Had an empire.)
Knighthood- a knight has "Sir" before his name. A new knight kneels in front of the Queen. She touches first his right shoulder, then his left shoulder with a sword. Then she says "Arise, Sir... [His first name]", and the knight stands.
Peerage - a pee~ is a lord. Peers sit in the House of Lords. That's one part of the Houses of Parliament. The other part is the House of Commons. Peers call the House of Commons "another place".
Dame/Baroness - these are two of the highest honours for a woman.
The State Opening of Parliament
Parliament, not the Royal Family, controls modern Britain. But traditionally the Queen opens Parliament every autumn. She travels from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament in a gold carriage - the Irish State Coach. At the Houses of Parliament the Queen sits on a “throne” in the House of Lords. Then she reads the “Queen's Speech”. At State Opening of Parliament the Queen wears a crown. She wears other jewels from the Crown Jewels, too.
The Order of Garter Ceremony
The Order of the Garter ceremony has a long history. King Edward III started the Order in the fourteenth century', that time, the people in the Order were the twenty', four bravest knights in England. Now the knights of the Order aren't all soldiers. They're members of the House of Lords, church leaders or politicians. There are some foreign knights, too. For example, the King of Norway, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the Emperor of Japan. They're called Extra Knights of the Garter. The Queen is the Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. But she isn't the only royal person in the Order. Prince Charles and Prince Philip are Royal Knights, and the Queen Mother is a Lady of the Garter.
In June the Order is a traditional ceremony at Windsor Castle. This is the Queen's favorite castle. It's also the home of the Order ~ the Garter. All the knights walk from the castle to St George's Chapel. The royal church at Windsor. They wear the traditional Clt) thCS or "robes" of the Order. These robes are very heavy. In tact King Edward VIII once called them 'ridiculous". But they're an important part of one to Britain's oldest traditions.
The Queen’s Christmas Speech
Now here's a modern royal custom. On Christmas Day at 3.00 in the afternoon the Queen makes a speech on radio and TV. Its ten minutes long. In it she talks to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a large group of countries. In the past they were all in the British Empire. Australia, India, Canada and New Zealand are among the 49 members.
The B.B.C. (the British Broadcasting Corporation) sends the Queen's speech to every Commonwealth country. In her speech the Queen talks about the past year. Traditionally in speeches, kings or queens say “we” not “I” Queen Elizabeth II doesn't do this. She says “My husband and I” or just 'I''.
The Queen doesn't make her speech on Christmas Day. She films it a few weeks before. Then she spends Christmas with her family at Windsor. Does she watch the speech on TV? Nobody knows.
The Mayor is the city’s traditional leader. And the second Saturday in November is always the day for the Lord Mayor’s Show. This ceremony is over six hundred years old. It is also London’s biggest parade. The Lord Mayor drives to the Royal Courts of Justice in a coach. The coach is two hundred years old. It is red and gold and it has six horses. As it is also a big parade, people make special costumes and act stories from London’s history.
In Britain as in other countries costumes and uniforms have a long history. One is the uniform of the Beefeaters at the tower of London. This came first from France. Another is the uniform of the Horse Guards at Horse Guard’s Parade, not far from Buckingham Palace. Thousands of visitors take photographs of the Horse Guards.
Britannia is a symbol of Britain. And she wears traditional clothes, too. But she is not a real person. Lots of ordinary clothes have a long tradition. The famous bowler hat, for example. A man called Beaulieu made the first one in 1850. One of the British soldiers, Wellington, gave his name to a pair of boots. They have a shorter name today Wellies.