Custom demised: Braggot Sunday

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T. F. Thistleton-Dwyer’s 1875 British Popular customs present and past sort of spiced ale called Braggot, Bragget, or Braggat, was used in many parts of Lancashire on these visits of relations, whence the day was called Braggot Sunday.

Minsheu in his 1617 Ductor in Linguas tells us that Braggot is composed of two Welsh words. Brag, malt, and Gots, honeycombs. In Ben Jonson’s masque of the metamorphosised gipsies 1605 has the following lines:

“And we have serv’d there, armed all in ale, With the brown bowl, and charg’d in bragged ale.”

Robert Nares, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, Thomas Wright 1859 A glossary; or collection of words, phrases, names and allusions to customs, proverbs, etc., which have been thought to require illustration in the works of English authors, particularly of Shakespeare, and his contemporaries notes the recipe for making bragget:

 “Take three or four gallons of good ale, or more as you please, two dayes or three after it is densed, and put it into a pot by itselfe ; then draw forth a pottle thereof, and put to it a quart of good English honey, and set them over the fire in a vessell, and let them boyle faire and softly, and alwayes as any froth ariseth skumme it away, and so clarifie it, and when it is well clarified, take it off the fire and let it coole, and put thereto of pepper a pennyworth, cloves, mace, ginger, nutmegs, cinamon, of each two pennyworth, beaten to powder, stir them well together, and set them over the fire to boyle againe awhile, then bring milke warme, put it to the reste, and stirre all together, and let it stand two or three dales, and put barme upon it, and drink it at your pleasure.”

Despite a small mention on some website and apparently a brand of braggot ale being available as well as the detailed method Braggot ale it does not appear to have been revived as a culinary experience. Perhaps the quote by Liza Frank on her blog on folklore may suggest why:

“My snifter remains unfinished and the rest of the bottle will shortly descend the drain, but if you like your liquor a bit weird and worthy of a flagon, you might as well sup of the braggot.”

Sakiskiu Alus - Tonka Bean Braggot

So alternative name for Mothering Sunday as Braggot Sunday has been forgotten by many and does look like being revived soon!

Custom transcribed: Wife carrying races

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The UK Wife Carrying Race has taken place since in 2008 in Dorking, Surrey, and from tiny acorns it has grown as it only attracted only three competitors in its first year growing to include 23 couples. The official website states that:

“Unlike the Finnish World Championships where pairs of carriers run against each other, in the UK Wife Carrying Race all couples run against each other in one wild mix of flailing arms, legs and buttocks. The UK race also differs from the Finnish competition in that the course is not flat: carriers have to tote their ‘wives’ uphill to the half way point, with an altitude gain of around 10m, before running back downhill to the finish line. Hay bales are used to provide hurdles on both the outward and return legs and while the course does not feature a pool, like in Finland, there is a ready supply of volunteers with water pistols and buckets of water to soak the competitors as they near the finish.”

The website continues:

“The race in Dorking has also seen the full spectrum of carrying styles: the piggyback (popular, but tiring and not very fast); the bridle carrying (almost impossible to keep up for long); the Fireman (across the shoulders); the shoulder ride (precarious but surprisingly swift) and the Estonian hold, where the ‘wife’ hangs upside down on the man’s back with her legs over his shoulders: This is the hold that is now almost invariably used in competition, being swift and relatively comfortable for both carrier and ‘wife.”

Carried away with a good story

Lou Ambers on the blog post ‘The strange sport of wife carrying’ :

There are three stories that people say form the basis for this strange sport. The first of these stories is one where an ancient Finnish robber and his gang of thieves used to plunder the land. The leader of the gang was named Ronkainen the Robber and he and his gang used to steal food and women from surrounding villages in the area where he lived. They would carry the women away on their backs and that evolved into the wife carrying race of today. The other legend behind this race is the one about a practice in 19th century Finland when young men used to go to neighbouring villages and steal other men’s wives and claim them for themselves. The practice was known as wife stealing and may have contributed to the sport of today. The final origin story is a little bit mundane and ordinary. This again features the character named Ronkainen the Robber but this time he used to train his thugs to become faster and stronger by carrying big heavy sacks on their backs.”

The homeland of wife carrying is thus Scandinavia and with a cheeky node to that origin claims that the British one was established:

 “with help from our Scandinavian cousins” for around 300 years from 793AD when Viking raiders raided villages and abducted wives.”

Wives tales

The race has tried to be inclusive – apparently in 2015 Joel Hicks carried “Tiny Tina” a male friend in drag who was 7’4″ and 22 stone – although I am not sure that it ticked any transgender inclusivity box and in 2016 he apparently carried two wives to tick the polyandry box. Indeed the website records:

“The UK Wife Carrying Competition has now seen all combinations of competitors: men carrying women, a man carrying a man and a woman carrying a woman, and in 2013 welcomed a woman carrying a man fir the first time: The BBC’s Stephanie McGovern carried 78-kg Mike Bushell around the course (they came last by a long way, but they did finish!)”

Lou Ambers on the blog post ‘The strange sport of wife carrying’ :

“This odd race is not the most politically correct though. As the world moves on in terms of male and female equality we still have a race where women are carried by big strong men to the finish line. It does not say a lot about gender rights. But the race is a tongue in cheek kind and is only done to keep old traditions alive and relive the olden days of Finland. The sport seems to be more of a joke event and it is not to be taken seriously.”

Of course the whole event is very tongue in cheek and no pollical points are being made. In 2019 the website reported:

“Three brave couples took part: Joel Hicks and Wendy Cook, Ian and Kath Phillips, and Kevin Bailey and Kim Lowe. Joel opted for the transverse fireman’s carry, while the other two couples went for the classic piggyback. Joel Hicks (a veteran fundraiser who had travelled from Hinkley, Leicestershire, in order to take part) was dressed as a baby, complete with nappy and fetching blue bonnet.

Joel took an early lead, and hardly slowed down to walk until the climb to the half way high point, whereupon he accelerated away again, leaving the other two couples jostling for second place. Joel – a well-built young gent, to say the least – sprinted home in just 1 minute 59 seconds for the 380m course, although Kevin Bailey was a close-run second in 2:13. Ian jogged in a breathless but happy third, to win the last-placer’s Pot Noodle, in 2:30.”

 Sadly, although perhaps social distancing might not impact upon true husbands and wives it would preclude any causal ‘wives’ if the reader understands me, so the race has been given a well-earned rest time for the contestants to practice in lockdown no doubt!

Custom survived: Wearing a leek on St David’s Day

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“Your grandfather of famous memory, an’t please your majesty, and your great uncle Edward the plack prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles, fought a most prave pattle here in France.

” K. Hen. They did, Fluellin.

“Flu. Your majesty says very true : if your majesty is remembered of it, the Welshmen did goot service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty knows, to this hour is an honour­able padge of the service; and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s day.”

Henry V., act iv. sc. 7.

There are a number of plants associated with saint’s day- Shamrocks with St Patrick and Daffodils and Leeks with St David’s. Whilst Daffodils are easy to explain as they flower around the day and are native to the principality – Leeks are slightly more confusing.

T. F. Thistleton 1875 Dwyer British Popular customs present and past

“Various attempts have been made to account for the custom of wearing the leek. Owen, in his Cambrian Biography (1803), considers it to have originated from the custom of eymlwriha, or the neighbourly aid practised among farmers. He says that it was once customary in some districts of South Wales for all the neighbours of a small farmer without means to appoint a day, when they all met together for the purpose of ploughing his land, or rendering him any service in their power. On such an occasion each individual carried with him his portion of leeks to be used in making the pottage for the company.”

However to refer back to the Shakespeare quote Hone’s Every Day book records that the practice took its rise in consequence of a victory obtained by Cadwallo over the Saxons on the 1st of March, 640, when . the Welsh, to distinguish themselves, wore leeks in their hats.

Thistleton-Dwyer (1875) notes that:

“A contributor to a periodical work, entitled Gazette of Fashion (March 9th, 1822), rejects the notion that wearing leeks on St. David’s Day originated at the battle between the Saxons and the Welsh in the sixth century ; and considers it more probable that leeks were a Druidic symbol employed in honour of the British Ceudven, or Ceres. In which hypo­thesis he thinks there is nothing strained in presuming that the Druids were a branch of the Phoenician priesthood. Both were addicted to oak worship ; and during the funereal rites of Adonis at Byblos, leeks and onions were exhibited in ” pots with other vegetables, and called the gardens of that deity.”

T. F. Thistleton 1875 British Popular customs present and past records an extract from the Graphic (No. 171, March, 8th, 1873), shows how St. David’s Day is observed by the officers and men of this regiment:

“The drum-major, as well as every man in the regiment, wears a leek in his busby; the goat is dressed with rosettes and ribbons of red and blue.”

And as such the custom survives in its military guise although Prince Charles always wears one and some Welsh druids do on the allotted day. Elsewhere people have moved from leek to daffodil – a trend started by David Lloyd George – probably due to the antisocial associations of a smelly plant attached to one’s clothing. However, a revival could be in the offing as noted by 2020 Daily Post article by Andrew Forgrave Call for wearing Leeks on St. David’s Day to make a comeback. In it the author states:

“Not surprisingly, the British Leek Growers Association (BLGA) would like to see a renaissance.

“Wearing a leek on St David’s Day is a long standing tradition,” said BLGA chairman Stewart Aspinall.

“Welsh regiments continue to celebrate Wales’ national day by wearing a leek in their cap badges

“In recent years it’s fallen out of favour amongst the wider population but we’d hope to see a revival as it’s a celebration of Wales’s national heritage.”

Will it see a full revival perhaps like the artificial daffodils made for cancer charities in a non-smelly symbolic type?

Custom demised: Gyst-ale in Ashton-under-Lyne

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A lost festival was associated with Lady Day in Ashton-under-Lyne. Its first mention is in a rental of Sir John de Assheton, compiled a.d. 1422:

“that twenty shillings were paid to him as lord of the manor for the privilege of holding this feast by its then conductors. The persons named in the roll as having paid 3s. 4d. each are: Margret, that was the wife of Hobbe the Kynges (of misrule) ; Hobbe Adamson ; Eoger the Baxter; Robert Somayster; Jenkyn of the Wode; and Thomas of Curtual.”

What does Gyst-ale mean?

The meaning of the term gyst-ale is involved in some obscurity—most probably the payments above were for the gyst, or hire, for the privilege of selling ale and other refreshments during the festivals held on the payment of the rents of the manor. These guis-ings were frequently held in the spring, most probably about Lady Day, when manorial rents were usually paid; and, as the fields were manured with marl about the same period, the term marlings has been supposed to indicate the rough play or marlocMng which was then practised. This, however, must be a mistake, since the term relates to merry pranks, or pleasure gambols only, and has no connection with marl as a manure.”

Thistleton-Dwyer goes on to explain:

“These gyst-ales, or guisings, once ranked amongst the principal festivals of Lancashire, and large sums of money were subscribed by all ranks of society in order that they might be celebrated with becoming splendour. The lord of the manor, the vicar of the parish, the farmer, and the operative, severally announced the sums they intended to give, and when the treasurer exclaimed ” A largesse,” the crowd demanded ” from whom ?” and then due proclamation was made of the sum subscribed. The real amount, however, was seldom named, but it was announced that ” Lord John­son,” or some other equally distinguished person had con­tributed “a portion of ten thousand pounds” towards the expenses of the feast.”

One of the important aspects on the custom was the construction of an immense garland:

“which contained abundance of every flower in season, interspersed with a profusion of evergreens and ribbons of every shade and pattern. The framework of this garland was made of wood, to which hooks were affixed, and on these were suspended a large collection of watches, jewels, and silver articles borrowed from the richer residents in the town. On the day of the gyst this garland was borne through the principal streets and thoroughfares, attended by crowds of townspeople dressed in their best attire.”

The custom appeared to have inherited some characters from a mummer’s play. Indeed R.T. Hampson’s 1841 Dates, Charters, and Customs of the Middle Ages,states:

“In Lancashire we find the term gyst-ale, which seems to be one of the corruptions of disguising, as applied to mumming. Gyst-ale, or guising, was celebrated in Eccles [England] with much rustic splendor at the termination of the marling [field-dunging] season when the villagers, with a “king” at their head, walked in procession with garlands, to which silver plate was attached, which was contributed by the principal gentry in the neighbourhood.”

Thistleton-Dwyer continues:

“These were formed into a procession by a master of the ceremonies, locally termed the king. Another principal attendant was the Fool, dressed in a grotesque cap, a hideous grinning mask, a long tail hanging behind him, and a bell with which he commanded attention when announcements were to be made. In an early period of these guisings the fool was usually mounted on a hobby-horse, and indulged in grotesque pranks as he passed along—hence we obtained the term ” hob-riding,” and more recently the proverbial expression of “riding one’s hobby to death.”

Sadly all this uniqueness has now gone around the beginning of the last century!

Custom contrived: Slaithwaite Moonraker festival

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Slaithwaite is a village much many others in the west Yorkshire area except that through the middle is a canal which is the source of a much heard legend which records the actions of smugglers called moonrakers.

Moonshine?

An account on the Slaithwaite Moonrakers website records the origins of the legend:

“It all started around 1802 when the Slaithwaite Canal was built. As usual, when there are ships there are smugglers, and canal barges are ships of a sort aren’t they. Some of the bargees used to smuggle all sorts of things up the canal. Mostly rum and whisky and other things that had duty on them, and times were hard on the local estate in 1802, so they employed customs men to try and catch the smugglers. Despite this, the chances of getting caught if you were a smart cookie were not very high, and the profits could be so good that many villagers took the risk to make a few bob.”

The said story relates that some rum had been hidden in the reeds:  
“They has just started to rake it out, when a shaft of moonlight pierced the clouds and illuminated the scene. Unknown to Ken, some customs men were secretly keeping watch, having been tipped off by a jealous villager. When the moonlight lit up the scene, one of the customs men shouted ‘What are you lot doing?’ Uncle Fred was quite a quick thinker and as he noticed the Moon reflected on the water, he replied ‘Are you blind? Can’t you see that the Moon has fallen into the water. and we’re trying to rake her out before she drowns!’ Well, the customs men looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Moon fallen in the water! A right lot of Moonrakers you are!” said one.”

Shine on Slaithwaite moon

Roll forward to 1985 and some thought it would be a great idea to commemorate these smugglers with local children making lanterns of all shapes and sizes and following various themes from space in 1989 to vegetables in 2001. The efforts are remarkable and they really light up the street and the faces of those who see them. The Huddersfield examiner summed it up well in 2018:

“In February, people in the community are invited to be creative by being taught to make lanterns, using withy, tissue and glue. For the last festival, 1,500 individual sessions in lantern making were organised. It usually takes at least two sessions to make a lantern.”

The article goes on to describe:

“On the last Saturday of half term all assemble in the village centre with their lanterns. The Moon, which is around 2.5 metres tall, comes floating down the canal on his Moon Barge, and is hoisted out onto dry land by a huge crane, to music and fireworks. He is carried round the village by his gnomes, accompanied by assorted street bands and a large crowd, many carrying lanterns. The parade then heads back to the canal, where the Moon is celebrated by a Finale and Fireworks show.”

Once in a two moon!

The custom has been established to be biennial but 2021 would have been a year for it but sadly like every other custom the pandemic stopped the parade but did not stop the spirit of the custom and it adapted. It was called the Moonshine project where local people did artwork to be placed in the window. In 2021 people in the village lit up their windows so people who appreciate some brightening up those cold and dark February nights when they did they nightly exercise.  It was a great way to continue the community spirit that such customs are designed for.

Custom survived: Eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

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A few years back I was invited to be involved in a Shrove Tuesday live radio broadcast from the Nottinghamshire village of Linby. The aim was to discuss why we ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and I’ll explain why in a moment.

The association of pancakes with Shrove Tuesday is unlike perhaps any food associated with a calendar day – Christmas has cakes, mince pies and puddings (and much else I would add), Easter – hot cross buns, biscuits and Simnel cakes – but Shrove Tuesday is really only associated with one type of food. This association having become so great that the actual day is slowly morphing into Pancake day, divorced from its Christian origin and in a way devoid of any sense (or lacking not making any sense) of why it would be so associated.

Of course this metamorphosis is purely a commercial enterprise – which appears to have almost completed its aim. When the Pancake day stamp arose is difficult to work out but certainly by the 1980s adverts,  in the main associated with lemon juice, the secularisation was becoming well established.

But why Pancakes in the first place?

Tossing up the origin

Well this brings us back to why I was in Linby where it is said that the custom begun. However, the earliest reference I can find is by a H. E. P. Stuffynwood, near Mansfield in Notes & Queries 2nd S. vol. vii. 1859:

“There is a curious tradition existing in Mansfield, Woodhouse, Bulwell, and several other villages near Sherwood Forest, as to the origin of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. The inhabitants of any of the villages will inform the questioner that when the Danes got to Linby all the Saxon men of the neighbouring villages ran off into the forest, and the Danes took the Saxon women to keep house for them. This happened just before Lent, and the Saxon women, encouraged by their fugitive lords, resolved to massacre their Danish masters on Ash Wednesday. Every woman who agreed to do this was to bake pancakes for this meal on Shrove Tuesday as a kind of pledge to fulfil her vow. This was done, and that the massacre of the Danes did take place on Ash Wednesday is a well-known historical fact. In addition, the villagers will tell you that in this part of the country there were no red haired people before the Danes came; that all were either fair, or black haired before that time. Thinking this tradition as to the origin of pancakes sufficiently curious to be worth preserving, I venture to send it to ” N. & Q.” in the hopes that it may find a place somewhere in the pages of your valuable journal.”

In sort it seems very unlikely even if there was some veracity in the claim that the Linby legend spawned our long association between pancakes and Shrove Tuesday least of all that it cannot be proved it was on the said day.

A race for the origins

What is more evident is that making a pancake would use up the staples which were not part of the fast – namely dairy, eggs, fat and flour.

Certainly the name of Pancake Day for Shrove Tuesday was nothing new. Pancakes features in children’s rhymes at Shrove Tuesday from Skegby Stanton Hill Girl’s school. Nottinghamshire, the local children had a rhyme in the 1900s:

“Pancake day, pancake day if you don’t give us a holiday we’ll all run away. Where shell we run? Down Skegby Lane, here comes the teacher with the big fat cane”

To 1842 in Cornwall:

“Nicka, nicka nan ; Give me some pancake, and then I’ll be gone.”

In 1849 in Devonshire

“Lent Crock, give a pancake, Or a fritter, for my labour.”

And ad nauseum. Similarly, an interesting lost Shrove Tuesday tradition is recorded at Aspley Hall, which may have been more common countrywide. It is noted that the Lord and Lady of the manor would:                                

“provide batter and lard, fire, and frying pans, for all the poor families of Wollaton, Trowell and Cossall, who chose to come and eat their pancakes at his honour’s mansion, The only conditions attached to the feast were, that no quarrelling should take place, and that each wife and mother should fry for her own family, and that when the cake needed turning in the pan, the act should be performed by tossing it in the air and catching it again in the pan with the uncooked side downwards…”

One early origin is in Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry from 1620 which refers to the separate custom of feeding the first pancake to the hen. However custom magpie Thistleton-Dwyer again comes up with a solution to when it arose. Firstly he states that:

“In connection with the custom of eating pancakes on this day, Fosbroke in his Encyclopaedia of Antiquities (vol. ii. p. 572) says that ” Pancakes, the ” Pancakes, the Norman Crispellae,, are taken from the Fornacalia, on Feb. 18th, in memory of the practice in use before the goddess Fornax invented ovens.”

More significantly perhaps for Linby’s claims he then states:

“The Saxons called February ‘Solmonath,’ which Dr. F. Sayers, in his Disquisitions, says is explained by Bede’s ‘Mensis Placentarum,’ and rendered by Spelman, in an inedited MS., ‘Pancake month’ because in the course of it cakes were offered by the Pagan Saxons to the Sun.”

Whilst it does not mention the Linby story it does place the origins in the same period of time. However, in Robert Thompson Hampson’s  1841 Medii Ævi Kalendarium: Or, Dates, Charters, and Customs of the Middle Ages, Volume 1 is originally Swedish pankaka, an omelette but it has been absurdly derived from the Greek words for all bad in reference to the penitents at confession. If it does have such an origin I am sure that those originators would be amazed to see how the pancake has blossomed and continues to bear fruit in the 20th and 21st century and take over the day.

So in all it is difficult when to exactly to say why when pancakes became a staple all I know is that every year I think to myself I enjoyed those why don’t I have more often than once a year!?

Custom demised: Meltham Collop Monday Penny Scramble

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This was a little known lost custom which existed in Meltham near Huddlesfield and apparently unique to there. This was a distribution of new pennies a sort of penny scramble on Collop Monday. The custom is first described in an 1929 edition of the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 

“Collop Monday.

“Collop Monday” was observed at Meltham, near Huddersfield, yesterday, by giving a newly minted penny to each child who appeared at the gates of Meltham Mills, and later by scattering further coins to an assembly of the young. I nearly assembled myself, but I am afraid it would not have been much use.”

The article goes on to say that:

“Formerly the children made the round of the village, saying, “Pray, dame, a collop or a halfpenny” at each house. But this has been dropped, and the scattering of shining new pence has taken its place. “

Apparently, the custom begun in 1881 by a Mr Edward Brook and was continued after his death in 1904 by his son. It would appear that he can adopted it from other penny scrambles which existed in the town such as at Whitsun. This custom however begun with the distribution of the coins from a leather pouch and then thrown to be scrambled for!  It was clearly popular with the local children as the money could be used to pay for sweets.

The article continues:

“The custom was begun in 1881 by the late Mr. Edward Brook and has been continued since his death in 1904 by his son, Lieut.-Col. Charles Brook. He, however, was absent yesterday, and so his son, Capt. Edward Wm. Brook — who was equerry to the Duke of Gloucester on his recent big game hunting expedition — came to the rescue. Among those present was Mr. John Pogson, foreman joiner at the Mills, who has been present at the ceremony ever since it started, and who has 66 years of working life to his credit.”

An article in the Leed’s Mercury of the same year stated that:

There is thought for the less burly, too, for before the scattering each child who comes to the works gates receives one of the bright coppers.

But the scrambling provides the real adventure. One or two who would have departed without participating in the riotous joy were rebuked by their colleagues.”

The Leed’s Mercury notes;

A Happy Crowd.

From a substantial bag, akin to that one sees on racecourses, Captain Brook hurled aloft the pennies, and the crowd surged forward and dashed back with screams of laughter, pushing, plunging and raiding to get the benefit of the shining shower.

Captain Brook was very judicious. Small girls, looking on wistfully, had a shower — several showers — for their special benefit, and one got the impression that only the very lazy or the hopelessly unlucky failed to augment their original capital.

Mr. John Pogson, who is 75, and has worked for 66 years at Meltham Mills, supervised the distribution. He has seen the pennies thrown for fifty years, and his patriarchal beard and paper workman’s can were a picturesque touch.

With his eyes alight with fun, John told me that the custom of scattering coins among children dates back to the period when the Israelites emerged from Egypt in bondage. At any rate there is something jolly and old-world about the business they carry it through in this pleasant Yorkshire village.”

A great glimpse can be felt in the article in the Yorkshire Evening Post from 1938:

Miniature rugby scrums took place all over the road, the bruised knees and hacked shins were speedily forgotten in the rush for possession.

Tiny tots hardly the size of “threepenn’orth o’ copper,” as one villager described them, fought with as much determination and vigour as the older children, and they seemed almost to enjoy being sat on and stamped on as they rushed to the bottom of the scrum.

Some of the lads are proud of the records they have set up at these Meltham scrambles. I spot to one who picked up a dozen pennies this morning. Others said that on previous occasions they had collected 27 and 30 pennies respectively.

The boys, incidentally, do not have it all their own way, and some of the lassies of Meltham had a very successful morning

It is not clear how long the Mills continued the custom but clearly understanding that one penny could become two in the hands of the parents perhaps by the time of the Second World War, it was the local shopkeepers who began handing out free sweets to children on the day. Sadly little is reported of the custom but what is remarkable is that it is reported to have continued up until the early 1990s by Mrs Annie Woodhead who ran a newsagents in the market square. Why it then died out is unclear but with her the last of this local scramble and the longest public association with collop Monday died out!  

Custom contrived: London’s New Year Parade

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“Executive director Bob Bone started the event with his wife Geri in the 1980s after they had wanted to take their children out on New Year’s Day and found most museums, theatres, cinemas, restaurants and shops were closed.”

And thus was born what would become the world’s largest New Year’s Day street parade.

 

It was new year 2019 and I had a busy day ahead. I got up early to attend a rather empty local radio studio for a breakfast show about new day customs and so it was rather appropriate to take the opportunity to attend one of the few New Year Day customs – the London New Year parade.

New year new custom

It was in 1987 that the first New Year’s Parade was started under the name Lord Mayor of Westminster’s Big Parade..surprisingly this rather clunky and rather lacking in details (or perhaps too much detail) name survived until 1994. I am sure that someone in the organisation thought to themselves it does not really say anything about when it is…and who outside of London would care about the Lord Mayor of Westminster was. So clearly with an eye on its commercial survival and its familiarity with tourists…the more obvious New Year’s Parade was coined. A name which would have greater resonance.

Certainly the organisers have their eye on the tourists. For example probably when another member of the teams rightfully observed that the parade route missed the big tourist locations the route was wisely reversed in 2010. This was done to:

“appease US television broadcasters and give the American audience the best views of the capital’s landmarks, such as the Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster (The Houses of Parliament, also known as Big Ben) and Trafalgar Square”.

The article continues

“The reverse route will give the American audience the best views of the capital’s landmarks, such as Big Ben and Trafalgar Square. The annual parade is popular in the US and an estimated 100 million viewers are expected to tune in. Last year nearly 4,000 Americans took part, representing 24 different bands.”

A wise move with the event being televised now in 900 countries – although not broadcast live in the UK!

 

Parading about

I arrived around an hour before the parade was about to start and arrange myself in a place a mile or so down from the starting block. One could soon see the crowds awaiting and hear the sound coming of bands – that staple of all parades.

The event is certainly a big one with 32 London boroughs involved and all manner of commercial enterprises. At the head of the parade was a huge inflated Mayor of London and soon after an inflated red phone box! There was a clever nod to the other parades – yellow NYC taxis, a Chinese Dragon and some rather brave Brazilian dancers – a veritable smorgasbord of parade icons – through into this some classic cars, motor cycles and tickertape and reference to west end shows such as the Wicked! All in all on a rather dull January Day a bright and vibrant injection.

 

Whilst the New Year’s Day Parade is certainly an impressive and joyful event personally it is not one I hurry back to experience again. Why? The crowds surprisingly and perhaps not surprisingly because as the founder did state there is still little else to do in London on the 1st of January are a little intense. However, I have coped with crowds. No I feel it is more the overt commercial aspect of the event. It is an event purely for the tourists devoid of any real tradition. That’s fine the city needs to keep those tourists happy. However, I found it rather soulless! Loud, bright, engaging…perhaps fun…but soulless. I would certainly recommend it to anyone to see once and certainly if they in London over NYE but perhaps not to travel especially for..and indeed in 2021 one didn’t need to we all joined remotely!

Custom survived: Eating mince pies on every day for the Twelve days of Christmas

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“And if you wanted to be ensure good health and happiness in the upcoming year, you should eat one mince pie every day for the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Eve until the 5th of January.”

Walkers Shortbread

Every year some mentions it as they open a box of mince pies as the festive season begins. Then I think I’ll try and eat one for each day of twelfth night and then fail miserably!! But it seems so easy. However, it looks like I’ve been failing before I begin as research shows I needed to do more than eat them!

Mince your words!

The earliest reference to this custom appears to by from 1853 Denham Christmas

“As many mince pies as you taste at Christmas so many happy months you will have….general though..Westermorland and Cumberland counties celebrated extreme hospitality.”

What is interesting is that it is not found before the 1850s but becomes widespread soon after. Furthermore the basic concept behind the tradition is outlined  twelve mince pies one for each day.

However soon after a variant appears. Within the decade, a copy of the 1861 Notes and queries 2nd Series states that:

“Eating mince pies in different houses. This saying is so well known that it need not relate it at length.”

Well perhaps it would have been good if it had because the appearance of different houses appears new but is it hinted by Denham when discussing the hospitality of those households. Certainly by 1883 Charlotte Sophia Burne’s Shropshire: A Sheaf of Gleanings stated that:

“There is ‘luck’ about mince pie damd iit is this. For every house during the Twelve days he will enjoy a happy month in the ensuing twelve months.”

By the 1921 Notes and Queries 12 Series an anonymous reported stated:

“Fifty years ago I was taught that the first mince pie should be eaten on Stirrup Sunday’ and every ne eaten between then and Twelfth night, in a different house, meant one month of happiness in the New Year.”

However, in 1908 Arnold Bennett Old Wives Tale had immortalised it in fiction in the following:

“Now Mr Scales, you must taste my mine A happy month for every tart you eat, you know’ Mrs Barnes reminded him.”

Wiltshire Folklore by Kathleen Wiltshire in 1975 notes:

“Mince pies too, have their own magic; if you eat twelve of them, from twelve, separate friends, during the twelve days of Christmas, you are promised a lucky twelve months to follow.”

Again suggesting the simpler tradition. But why mince pieces?

Having your pie and eat it

An account of 1923 from Martock Somerset in Folklore records a confused account:

“Even if a currant of each, taste as many mince-pies and Christmas puddings as possible between Christmas Day and the 6th January – each is a happy month.”

By 1960 another proviso had occurred. A woman from Steep Hampshire states that:

 “You will get a happy month for each mince pie you eat, as long as you don’t speak whole you are eating it.”

Yet another reason why I haven’t been successful. I would have to be careful though because when I had opened those mince pies in early December I was already going against my luck. John Symonds Udal’s 1922 Dorsetshire folklore

“Amongst strict observers of old customs…no one would think of eating a mince-pie before Christmas Eve or later than Twelfth Night.”

Pie in the sky

The luck associated appeared to be associated with the need to wish as an account from 1923 notes:

“When you eat the first mince pie you must wish.”

Finally, in the 1932 G.K. Chesterton New Poems he says:

“Some wishes at Xmas: Mince-pieces grant wishes, let each name his prize; but as for us, we wish for more Mince pies.”

More mince pieces surely not!