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Unusual British Holiday Traditions

Morris Dancing

It has to be admitted the Brits are usually seen as a rather odd lot by those of other nationalities, with this world view encouraged by the large number of unusual British holiday traditions. From the wearing of socks and shorts on a Spanish beach when everyone else is in bikinis or less, to the odd Scots tradition of first-footing as the clock chimes midnight on New Year’s Eve, perhaps the sceptics have a point!

Land of Oddballs
It’s best to remember the Brits have the perfect excuse to continue being odd, as many of their strange, holiday-related customs are hundreds of year old and can be blamed on culture however uncultured they may seem to foreigners. One of the oddest holiday traditions has been going for well over 100 years – the Punch and Judy Puppet Show, which was once held on the sands of every chilly, damp holiday resort on the island and is still popular nowadays.

That’s The Way to Do It
Admittedly, puppet shows are a world-wide cultural tradition, but the Punch and Judy show is truly behind the times, depicting domestic violence towards Punch’s wife and baby, multiple murders, an attack on a policeman and even a hungry crocodile, all totally politically incorrect, except maybe the crocodile, which is not yet an endangered species! However it’s still a morality tale in the old style as, with the appearance of the hangman, Punch gets his come-uppance for his crimes. Many of the still-popular British seaside resorts still hold Punch and Judy shows, complete with the mandatory audience participation which is beloved by generations of children.

Round The Maypole
The May Day holiday, celebrated these days as World Workers’ Day, has its roots as far back as pagan pre-Roman times when it was celebrated as the spring festival as Walpurgis Night, sacred to witches and the occult. Nowadays, many country towns and villages still celebrate the holiday in the traditional manner, with dancing around the maypole and the strange rite of Morris dancing involving two lines of costumed guys waving white handkerchiefs and hitting each other with sticks! A huge bonfire signals the end of the village green party and the merrymakers retire to local pubs for more fun, not much of which they’ll be able to remember the next day.

A Chilly Dip
The Christmas holiday embraces a few unusual British holiday traditions. Perhaps the least understandable of these traditions is the yearly ritual since 1864 of a swim in London’s Hyde Park Serpentine Lake. No matter whether the swimmers have to break the ice to get in (which has occasionally happened) or whether the mercury has dropped to 0˚C, the 100 yard swim attracts dozens of swimmers and hosts of spectator. Much the same happens on Brighton Beach at 11:00 and Hampstead Heath’s pond is another location for this self-punishing holiday tradition.

Fire And Brimestone
The January New Year attracts all kinds of unusual holiday traditions across the British Isles, with the spectacular Tar Barrels rite in Allendale, Northumbria, involving costumed locals carrying huge, flaming tar barrels on their heads and chucking the contents onto the bonfire in the market square. The Scottish Stonehaven Fireballs ceremony held in the Grampians town on Hogmanay (Scottish New Year) is another possibly dangerous but huge fun tradition which dates from the Middle Ages and possibly much earlier. The blazing fireballs are swung around participants’ heads to destroy evil influences and purify the town for the New Year.

Coal And Whiskey
First-footing is an ancient tradition in Scotland which takes place just after the clock has chimed midnight on New Years’ Eve. The first-footer, almost always a man, carries a piece of coal in his hand and knocks on the doors of neighbours and friends. When admitted as the first person to enter the house in the New Year, he’s greeted with a slug of the famous Scottish malt whisky amid much celebration. It’s a moot point as to how many houses each first-footer can enter before he succumbs to the effects of the single malt!

Come join the British with their crazy eccentric traditions, drive by car, fly by low cost airlines, sail by yacht or even swim! – Just get here and join in with one of our extreme UK holiday traditions.

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