The Thursday Emancipation Day and Friday Somer's Day before the first Monday in August are when Somerset and St. George play cricket, a tradition since 1901. Almost all businesses, including tourist attractions, shut down and large numbers of tents appear throughout the islands on beaches and roadsides. It's a four-day weekend, Bermuda-style. Bermudians make the most of it, sporting their team's colours, feasting and even doing some legalized gambling with their "Crown and Anchor" dice game.
Bermuda consists of about 138 islands and islets, with all the major islands aligned on a hook-shaped, but roughly east-west, axis and connected together by road bridges. Despite this complexity, Bermudans usually refer to Bermuda as "the island". In terms of terrain, the islands are comprised of low hills separated by fertile depressions, and interspersed with a complex set of waterways.
The inhabited island chain is actually the southern sector of a circular pseudo-atoll, the remainder of the coral ring being submerged or inter-tidal reefs Bermuda was formed volcanically but is not a true atoll. As a result the northern shores of inhabited islands are relatively sheltered, whilst the southern shores are exposed to the ocean swell. Consequently most of the best beaches are on the southern shore.
Bermuda was first settled in 1609 by shipwrecked English colonists headed for the infant English colony of Virginia. The first industry on the islands was fruit and vegetable cultivation to supply the early American colonies. The islands took a carefully unofficial role during the American War of Independence, with much of Washington's armaments coming from a covert and likely locally complicit raid on the island's armoury. After US independence and during the Napoleonic wars, Great Britain found itself without access to the ports now on the US east coast. Because of this situation and Bermuda's convenient location between British Canada and Britain's Caribbean possessions, Bermuda became the principal stopover point for the British Royal Navy's Atlantic fleet, somewhat similar to Gibraltar.
The American Civil War and American Prohibition both added considerably to the island's coffers, with Bermuda forming an important focal point in running the blockades in both cases. During the Second World War, a large US air base was built on the islands and remained operational until 1995, and Bermuda served as the main intercept center for transatlantic cable messages to and from occupied Europe.
Tourist travel to Bermuda to escape North American winters first developed in Victorian times. Tourism continues to be important to the island's economy, although international business has surpassed it in recent years. Bermuda has developed into a highly successful offshore financial center. A referendum on independence was soundly defeated in 1995. For many, Bermudian independence would mean little other than the obligation to staff foreign missions and embassies around the world, which can be a strong obligation for Bermuda's small population.