Customs demised: Watching the sun dance on Easter Sunday

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Across the country it was traditional to get on Easter day or Sunday and see the sun dance in celebration of Christ’s resurrection from Polperro to Derbyshire, where at Castleton, locals would climb to a prominent hill to see it. Addy (1895) in his Traditional household tales notes:

“On Easter Sunday people at Castleton, in Derbyshire, used  to climb the hill on which the castle is built, at six o’clock in the morning, to see the sun rise. On this day the sun is said to dance for joy at his rising.”

In Dartmoor and Exmoor, in Devon and Somerset, there was said to be the Lamb and flag in the disc. Girls used to take smoked glass to see the sun. In Somerset Dunkery Beacon and Will’s neck were climbed and often an idea of the that it could be used to forecast the weather for the coming year Indeed Maureen Sutton (1995) in her Lincolnshire Calendar who notes that belief in the tradition was still current in the 1920s and 30s in the county and. She notes of Swineshead in the 1920s:

“Old Bert used to get up real early on Easter Day morning before the sun got up. He’ put a huge earthenware jar out and fill it up to the brim with water…when the sun rose, the reflection was shown on the jar and it made the sun dance on the water. If the water rippled it meant there was going to be enough water to last through the summer. If tyhe sun moved slowly across the water, it meant a dry summer”

In Worksop, Nottinghamshire, a correspondent in a local newspaper, a man called Thomas Ratcliffe, notes that a stream was a location:

“When I was a child this talk used to impress me very much and I persuaded my mother to take me to a spot about half a mile away, where a small stream widening out in a ford used by farmers and others. The spot was often visited on Easter Morning for the purpose of seeing the sun dance which it was sire to do if it were sunny and a soft wind rippled the surface. The sun did dance on the particular day”

Or perhaps, as the Reverend Parish notes of the tradition in Sussex:

“nobody is ever seen it because the devil is so cunning that he always puts a hill in the way to hide it”

This is echoed in The Lincolnshire magazine 1932-4 vol 1 which stated that:

“I have often heard of the sun dancing on Easter Day, but never met with anyone who had really seen it”

Although, the article goes on to report someone who had, describing it as:

“It kep on th’ dance for nigh on half an hour, dancing and turnin round all the time..There were cogwheels all round it an; it kep dartin’ out-dartin out light it did. It was most like that thing in the menagic lanten as keeps turnin round.”

It was probably due to eye strain following gazing at the sun’s disc. This activity is suggested by Addy (1895) in Derbyshire who says:

“On the Wednesday before Easter Sunday a Derbyshire man said, ” I think the sun will hardly be able to contain himself till Sunday.” In  Derbyshire they  say that the sun spins round when he sets on Easter Sunday, and people go out to see this spinning.”

Thomas Ratcliffe notes again and hints at the growing rational explanations of the event:

“I still remember the kindly lesson given me on that occasion, low I was told that the wind and water together by causing ripples made the sun to seemingly dance upon the surface of the ford.”

Perhaps this combined with the rarity of seeing it, possible ocular damage and a growing rationality lead to its demise. When the custom was no longer observed is unclear….Perhaps some people still make their quiet pilgrimage to their nearest hill or pool to see the sun’s joyous celebration of the resurrection.

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5 responses »

  1. I am not a particularly religious person although I grew up Catholic. On an Easter Sunday about 15 years ago I looked out the window and the sun was spinning. It was a very sunny day but I stared directly at the sun without it bothering my eyes. I was humbled and realised I was watching something very special although I had never heard of it before. It wasn’t until years later while talking to my very religious sister in law did I realise just how special it was..

  2. I was born on Easter Sunday 1952. My mother had been in labour sice good friday. I have always grown up being told the sun danced that morning and multiple family members witnessed this as they were up all night waiting on my tardy birth. Maybe it was exhaustion or mass hysteria, but all are adamant that the sun spun and shot accross the sky at dawn

  3. When I was kid i used to live with my parents lived on the bay Island of Roatan back in Honduras where every Easter Sunday we awake early morning to see the sun dance. We would awake at 4:30 AM to go sing Christian songs near a church where the sun rises every morning. One year I witnessed it dance; it shake from one side to the other as it rised. It stopped ones for couple of minutes then It started to shake again and when it got to a certain height – it started to blink like a bright star…this is a day I would never forget. I was back home this year for Easter but a big black cloud stopped us from seen it dance, but the couple seconds we got a view of it, it was blinking like crazy, and the reflection of the sun around the water and the sky was amazing.

  4. Yes, the sun does dance and shout on Easter… It is so amazing and humbling to think that someone loved a old wretch like me enough to sacrifice his son so that I might have the right to live and choose where I spend eternity…. He is soooo Amazing….. As Jesus said, It is finished…. but not even could death keep him in the grave … He has risen….. Everything that has breath should shout and give him praise….. just as the sun.

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