Tag Archives: history

Some February Traditions, Celebrations & Superstitions

February was, for the Romans, the month of atonement and purification, the time to regret sins and put things right.  Purification is also the concept in the Christian festival of Candlemas – the fortieth day after the birth of Christ and known as the ‘Presentation of Christ in the Temple’.  As such it was the day on which the purification of the mother and the presentation of the son should occur.

Other traditions and celebrations followed as the years went on and they spawned superstitions – things and activities that took on an increased importance.  In Britain February is also a time when the weather plays strange ‘tricks’ – confusing animals and plants alike. As both are instinctively influenced by nature the actions of plants & birds & flowers were seen as foretellers of the future – and this generated a whole range of traditions and superstitions as we have today.

The earliest reference to the festival we call Candlemas is in the late 4th century when a pilgrim to Jerusalem celebrated it on February 14th – 40 days after Epiphany (then celebrated as Christ’s birthday).  After December 25th was fixed as Christ’s birthday the emperor Justinian I decreed that the Presentation should be moved to February 2nd – 40 days after Christmas.  By the middle of the 5th century the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles had been introduced and the name Candlemas developed from this custom.  In the East it is primarily a festival of Christ; in the West it was primarily a celebration of the Virgin Mary until the calendar reform of 1969.

Until the tradition of Twelfth Night was established Candlemas Day was also regarded as the end of the Christmas season – and the time to take down Christmas decorations.  It was considered crucial that every last vestige of Christmas decoration was cleared from churches as traces of berries, holly and so forth would bring death among the congregation before another year was out.

Let’s now have a look at the above from a different slant – Weather forecasting! Superstitions grew across Britain with regard to our weather happening. At the time we are talking now we have the following:

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight; but it be dark with clouds and rain; Winter is gone, and will not come again.”



In England and fancy a day out this Saturday, 6th January 2018?

It is Haxey Hood day – the day when a part of the Isle of Axholme goes a bit crazy for the afternoon to mark one of England’s oldest traditions.  Where is it? It’s in North Lincolnshire – the only part of Lincolnshire west of the River Trent – and between the three towns of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough.

There in the Isle of Axholme goes one of England’s oldest traditions. Regulars from four pubs will be going head to head in a marathon battle to get the famed Hood into their favoured watering hole in the latest staging of the traditional contest which has been running for more than 700 years.

The official story is that in the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray, wife of Isle landowner, John De Mowbray, was out riding towards Westwoodside on the hill that separates it from Haxey. As she went over the hill her silk riding hood was blown away by the wind. Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field. It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady, he gave it to one of the others to hand back to her. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool. So amused was she by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase, that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.

If you can get there this year, or want plan for a visit next year, or want to arrange a similar event for your community, here’s 21 things you might like to know about the Haxey Hood!

  1. The contest is always held on the Twelfth Day of Christmas – January 6, unless the date falls on Sunday when it’s held on January 5.
  2. The rugby style scrum is officially called The Sway.
  3. The hood is actually a cylindrical piece of leather.
  4. Four pubs compete – The Loco, Duke William and the King’s Arms in Haxey and the Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside.
  5. The nobles mentioned in the story did exist. Records show that John De Mowbray (29 November 1310 – 4 October 1361), the 3rd Baron Mowbray of Axholme, would be the most likely candidate for the husband of the lady. {If you can’t get one of these I’m sure someone will improvise}
  6. The Hood is thought to date from about 1359. {I’m sure someone could make a hood to suit.}
  7. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Ashbourne’s Royal Shrovetide Football, the Shrove Tuesday Football Games in Sedgefield, Durham and Alnwick, Northumberland and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire. {Gives you a valid excuse to do your own event.}
  8. There is speculation regarding the hood having originally been the head or penis of a sacrificial animal used in a fertility ritual is just that. {I guess that it could be replicated.}
  9. The songs sung ahead of the contest in the pubs are well-known folk songs including ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘Cannons (Drink England Dry)’ and ‘The Farmer’s Boy’.
  10. The red-coated overseer of proceedings is the Lord of The Hood. He is assisted by the Chief Boggin, ten other Boggins and the Fool.
  11. The Fool leads the procession between pubs and has the right to kiss any woman on the way.
  12. Once at the green in front of the Parish Church, the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome at around 2.30pm standing on an old mounting block in front of the church known as the Mowbray Stone.
  13. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him and this is known as ‘Smoking the Fool’.
  14. This is a watered-down version of the earlier custom in which a more substantial fire was lit with damp straw beneath a tree. The Fool was then suspended over the fire and swung back and forth until he was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could.
  15. At the end of the speech, the Fool finishes with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are: “hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock ‘im doon, but doan’t ‘ot ‘im,” which translates as: “house against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”
  16. The Lord also carries his wand of office. This is a staff made from twelve willow wands with one more upside down in the centre. These are bound thirteen times with willow twigs and a red ribbon at the top. The thirteen willow wands are supposed to represent the twelve apostles and the upside down one represents Judas.
  17. Proceedings start at 3pm with the throwing of twelve Sack Hoods. These are rolled hessian sacks, a prequel to the main game, mainly for children.
  18. The Hood, which cannot be thrown or run with, is moved slowly by ‘swaying’, that is pushing and pulling the Hood and people within the ‘Sway’ toward the direction of their pub.
  19. Nobody parks on the roads where the Sway may go, and for good reason. In 2002, a couple of drivers parked opposite the Duke William. The Sway headed right for them and pushed one of the cars 10 feet down the road and into the other.
  20. The game ends when the Hood arrives at one of the pubs and is touched by the landlord from his front step. The landlord then takes charge of the Hood for the year, and is supposed to give everyone a free drink. The winning pub pours beer over the Hood and then hangs it behind the bar (each pub has two hooks especially for this purpose).
  21. Last year’s winner was the King’s Arms, the first time the pub had won since 2014.

Let me know if you go and enjoy or if set about replicating it in your community,  I’m happily post the fact! 

Not in the UK and our history?  No problem – I’m sure that there are similar opportunities to put on a similar event.  If you do have a go I’m happy to post the fact!

A New Year begins

Hello all – I hope you have had a good Christmas and that 2018 will deliver everything you wish for – well, quite a lot of what you wish for, we mustn’t be too greedy!

Today is the first day of a New Year – a year that will, one hopes, deliver new work; new challenges – and that long standing beliefs will become truths. As far as my life is concerned many of these beliefs go back to happenings long ago.  Over the past few weeks I have been recalling the past and looking forward to the future.  Often these thoughts caused me to think – ‘was that a real happenings or am I just remembering things?‘

I have always lived and worked in England so – did I really go to Detroit and then on to Toronto in the 1970s at my boss’s request – and money?  Did a different company & boss take me to Las Vegas and San Francisco – and what about my 8 day in Japan for yet another company?  My life has had so many events and changes.

At this time of the year in Britain there are many things that I wish I had done but never have – and never will.  A friend of mine enjoyed one of these wishes and who knows – you may have the chance.   This is the story he told to me:

‘I walked along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on New Year Night to watch the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. I had been told that, for over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street would be lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads.

It looked dangerous but the fireballs were, I was told, very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours but now they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, marched down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

I was told that the ceremony dates from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but that the torch processions go back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and that there is a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae is remembered for what is probably the best known and most popular of all First World War poetry.  It is believed that he was so moved by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmet, who had been killed by a shell burst, and inspired by the profusion of wild poppies he could see in the nearby cemetery, that he wrote In Flanders Fields. Sadly, John McCrae did not survive WW1; he died from pneumonia whilst on active duty in 1918.  He is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Wimereux Communal cemetery.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We live, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold on high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army (1872-1918)

My mother’s father was involved in this war and served in many areas of conflict – but not in Flanders.  He died in the mid-1930s and, according to my mother, the doctor said it was because of what he did in the war.


The birth of the United Nations

It was on Wednesday 24th October 1945 that the United Nations officially came into existence.  The charter had been signed by delegates from 50 member nations in San Francisco on Tuesday 26th June 1945 at the end of the United Nation Conference on International Organization.

The preamble to that Charter said:
‘We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, … and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.’

A United Nations resolution of 1947 stated that 24th October would henceforth be known as United Nations Day ‘and shall be devoted to making known to the people of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations, and to gaining their support for the work of the United Nation.’

The first man to fly up, then fly down – and live.

It was on Sunday 22nd October 1797 that André-Jacques Garnerin carried out the first known parachute descent with a silk parachute at Parc Monceau, Paris.  Before he began his ascent the parachute resembled a closed umbrella with a pole running down its centre with a rope running through a tube in the pole that connected it to the balloon.  He rode in a basket attached to the bottom of the parachute.

At a height of around 3,000 feet (1,000 m), he cut the rope that connected his parachute to the balloon. The balloon continued its flight skyward while Garnerin, with his basket and parachute, went in the opposite direction!   As it fell the basket swung violently.  Then it landed – bumping and scraping as it did.  Then the basket stopped and out climbed Andre-Jacques Garnerin – the first man to descend safely and climb out uninjured!

This was just a beginning and Garnerin went on to stage regular tests and demonstrations at Parc Monceau in Paris. In 1798 he announced that his next flight would include a woman as a passenger. Although the public and press were in favour, he was forced to appear in front of officials of the Central Bureau of Police to justify his project.  They were concerned about the effect that reduced air pressure might have on the organs of the delicate female body and loss of consciousness, plus the moral implications of flying in such close proximity.

However – after further consultation with both the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of the Police – the injunction was overturned on the grounds that “there was no more scandal in seeing two people of different sexes ascend in a balloon than it is to see them jump into a carriage.” They also agreed that the decision of the woman showed proof of her confidence in the experiment and a degree of personal intrepidity.

We’ll come back to the result of that next year!

1920s music and some rather good performers

Paul Samuel Whiteman was an American composer, orchestral director and violinist as well as being the leader of one of the most popular dance bands in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.  Bing Crosby and Al Rinker had been together in a Jazz band in Spokane, Washington while in college. However, the band was so popular that the two dropped out of college and drove Rinker’s Model T to Los Angeles where Rinker’s sister, Mildred Bailey, who was a Jazz singer, was working. Shortly after their arrival in Los Angeles they landed a gig on the vaudeville circuit, as a vocal act. Some members of Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra caught their act and recommended them to Whiteman. Nothing appears to have happened.

Don Clark was a former member of the Whiteman band and, in 1926, offered the two individuals that were waiting & hoping to join Paul Whiteman the chance to make their first record.

They said ‘YES’ and, on Monday 18th October 1926, accompanied by Don Clark’s Biltmore Hotel Orchestra in Los Angeles, Bing Crosby and Al Rinker recorded “I’ve Got the Girl”.  The song was recorded using an electrical, not acoustic, microphone and “I’ve Got the Girl” was released on a 78rpm disk as Columbia #824-D. On the flip side was Don Clark’s instrumental version of “Idolizing”. Two months later Bing and Al joined the Whiteman Orchestra in Chicago, where, on December 22nd 1926, they cut their first records with Whiteman — “Wistful and Blue” and “Pretty Lips”.

I think it’s safe to say that the ‘rest is history’.

Today is Michaelmas day – the day of St Michael and All Angels.

29th September is one of the four days of the year on which quarterly rents are/were traditionally paid. For many it was also the day when Goose would be served for dinner. It was thought that eating goose on St Michael’s Day would bring financial prosperity in the year to come. The geese were fattened for the table by allowing them to glean fallen grain on the stubble fields after the harvest – and are often referred to in past-times as a “stubble-goose”.
Allegedly this tradition stems back to the practice of giving one’s Landlord a goose as a gift on this rent day – either in lieu of money or to keep him at ease with you.

In 1575 George Gascoigne wrote ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne’ which includes:

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter’s rent,
They bring some fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a Capon, at Michael a goose,
And somewhat else at New-year’s tide, for fear their lease flies loose.

There is another perk if you are interested: by tradition one may sleep late on St Michael’s Day! The tradition says that ‘Nature requires five, Custom gives seven; Laziness takes nine, and Michaelmas eleven.’


PS: There is a local link for some readers of these blogs: Most of Gascoigne’s works were published during the last years of his life. He died on 7th October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack, near Stamford, England, where he was the guest of George Whetstone.  He was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist’s Church, Barnack.

The BBC Radio Times is 94 years old today

It was on Friday 28th September 1923 that the Radio Times, price 2d, was first published.

It had all begun in that spring when John Reith, the BBC’s first Director General, had received an ultimatum from the Newspaper Publishers Association that warned and then threatened him that ‘unless the Corporation paid a significant fee, none of its NPA members would carry radio programme listings.’ The threat was soon withdrawn but it was there long enough for Reith to think through an idea for the corporation to publish its own listings magazine. He came to a joint agreement with George Newnes Ltd., and the first edition of ‘The Radio Times’ – the official organ of the BBC – appeared on the news-stands on this day.

Wednesday 20th September and the Victoria Cross:

The Victoria Cross was introduced in Great Britain on Saturday 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. Its ‘role’ was to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. The VC takes precedence over all other Orders, Decorations and Medals and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command.  The first presentation ceremony was held on Thursday 26th June 1857 when Queen Victoria invested 62 of the 111 Crimean recipients in Hyde Park.

The Battle of the Alma took place just south of the River Alma and is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War. It was on this day – Wednesday 20th September 1854 – at that Battle, that Edward Bell & Luke O’Conner of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and John Knox, William Reynolds (the first private to be awarded the VC), James McKechnie & Robert Lindsay of the Scots Fusiliers Guards each earned their Victoria Cross. All survived the war.

63 years later, on Wednesday 20th September 1917 Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin of the 9th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiments won his VC during an attack east of Ypres in Belgium. He took command of two companies and led them forward under very heavy machine gun fire. He then went to assist a neighbouring battalion. In the process he cleared and captured a series of ‘troublesome’ dugouts and machine-gun posts, some on his own and some with his men’s assistance. He personally killed several of the enemy and forced others – about fifty in all – to surrender. His Victoria Cross citation concludes ‘Later he consolidated his position with great skill, and personally wired his front under close-ranged sniping in broad daylight, when all others had failed to do so. The complete success of the attack in this part of the line was mainly due to Second Lieut. Colvin’s leadership.