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Cracking Christmas Traditions and Towns

As The Big Day is almost upon us, we’ve gone all festive and traveled around the UK quicker than Father Christmas to present you with some of the most wonderful and weird seasonal traditions, and the towns and villages where they take place.

Mummers Plays

Ashdown Mummers – Credit East Grinstead Museum

Mummers Plays are traditional British and Irish folk plays, which were made popular in the 18th and 19th century and are associated with Christmas. These plays, also described, as ‘early pantomime’ are one of the oldest surviving English Christmas traditions. A typical plot will involve always involve St. George as the hero, and the resurrection of a character; originally actors were all male and mimed, or kept ‘mum,’ hence the term ‘mummers.’

Go to Crowborough in East Sussex to see the Ashdown Mummers who perform every year around Christmas at a selection of pubs in towns and villages near Ashdown Forest. The market town is also one of the highest points in the county, which made it very popular with smugglers back in the day. It is a great base for exploring the 2,500 acre forest, as well as being close to The Bluebell Railway.

Crowborough High Street

As well as having links to A.A.Milne and Virginia Woolf, there is also a bronze statue of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was once a resident along with poet Minnie Louise Haskins.

Wassailing

Carhampton Wassail

There are two types of Wassailing, the orchard visit and the house visit, but both generally involve copious amounts of alcohol and merry making in exchange for gifts and money. You may recognise this as having evolved into carol singing.

Visit Carhampton in Somerset, whose Wassail takes place on the 17th of January at The Butchers Arms pub and and was started by Taunton Cider Company in the 1930’s. There is a visit to the Community Orchard where a bonfire is lit and residents and visitors form a circle around the largest apple tree, and hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robin who represent the ‘good spirits’ of the tree. A shotgun is then fired overhead to scare off evil spirits.

Carhampton – John that Baptists Church

The hamlet of Carhampton is also associated with Sir Carantoc, who, legend has it, slayed a serpent that was troubling the villagers, and as a reward was allowed by King Arthur to build a monastery (though this is no longer present.)

It is close by to the stunning Exmoor National Park and Minehead beach, and the John the Baptist Church dates back from the Perpendicular period and is a grade I listed building.

Mari Lwyd

Mari Lwyd outside the Bridge Inn in Chepstow

Mari Lwyd is a distinctly Welsh tradition used to mark the passing of the darkest days of the year, where an individual dresses up as the ‘white horse,’ a striking costume made up of a horses skull decorated with ribbons placed on top of a pole, with white drapes to conceal the wearer.

Originally, the Mari Lwyd was led around public drinking houses by groups of men where entry, food and drink would be granted by the landlord in exchange for a song.

Visit the historic walled border and port town of Chepstow whose annual Wassail Mari Festival combines both Mari Lwyd and Wassail, as well as the ‘oldest new tradition in Wales,’ where Wassailers (the English) and the Mari Lwyd and a rowdy crowd (The Welsh) meet on Wye Bridge bearing their flags to converge peace.

Chepstow Castle and Bridge

The town is a gateway to the Lower Wye Valley, and traces of Roman and Norman heritage are still apparent. Chepstow Castle, the first stone castle to be built in in Wales, if not the whole country was erected in 1067 by William FitzOsbern and still stands today.

Modern Chesptow now has lots of independent shops and also a racecourse.

Boxing Day Barrel Race

Granchester Barrel Rolling

The tradition of boxing day barrel rolling is not as old as some others, dating back to the 1960’s and firmly taking root since 2003 in Granchester, Cambridgeshire. Around midday 4 teams local to Granchester compete as well as a County championships race, with prizes given out at the Rupert Brooke pub afterwards. Spectating is encouraged!

As well as Barrel Rolling, other annual events include the Pancake Party in March, Village Party in June and Apple Pressing in October, ensuring that there is plenty to year-round, and memories are made, traditions passed down.

Banks of the Cam at Granchester

Granchester parish has artefacts dating back from prehistoric, Roman and Medieval times, but recently has formed the backdrop of the ITV series Granchester, based on the books by James Runcie which began in October this year.

Set alongside the River Cam, punting and canoeing are activities that can be enjoyed, as well as wild swimming. Follow the river along to the Granchester Meadows which can be hired for events and also holds outdoor film screenings as part of Cambridge Film Festival.

A handful of beautifully traditional old pubs are also available for stop-offs, the Blue Ball in particular being the oldest in the village, and The Green Man which is 500 years old.

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