November 1, 2016

10 Bizarre British Traditions

3 minute read

From Morris Dancers to Cheese Rolling Competitions, Britain is home to some strange and unique traditions – some of which go back thousands of years!

Sadly, some of these peculiar activities are starting to get lost in modern times, but you can still find many small villages and towns that celebrate them.

Here are ten of the most bizarre traditions in British culture.

Guy Fawkes’ Night (Bonfire Night)

Held on the 5th November, this is one of the most popular celebrations of the year, with huge firework displays, bonfires and sparklers in just about every public park and school as well as in people’s gardens.

The story behind it isn’t so cheerful, though: it goes back to 1605, when a man called Guy Fawkes plotted to blow up the British Houses of Parliament. He was caught and executed in a horrible way – and to celebrate this, people still create a ‘Guy’ out of straw, paper, fabric and other materials, and burn it on the bonfire!

Morris Dancing

One of the oldest of all English traditions, this is a dance performed outside by men wearing white, with bells on their knees and often flowers on their hats, holding either sticks, swords or handkerchiefs.

Maypole Dancing

This is usually performed on May Day to celebrate the start of spring. A pole is set up in the centre with long ribbons held by the dancers, who are usually children. The dancers duck under each other as they dance to create patterns using the ribbons.

Cheese Rolling

This takes place once a year at Coopers’ Hill in Gloucestershire, England. People compete to roll a 9-lb. round Double Gloucester cheese wheel down a hill. It’s an old tradition, although no one knows for certain when it began. Today people from all over the world come to take part!

Straw Bear Day

This is traditionally held on the Tuesday after ‘Plough Day’ in Whittlesea, in the Fenland area of Cambridgeshire. A man is dressed up in straw to look like a bear and dances from house to house. At the end of the 19th century the police banned Straw Bear Day, but it was brought back in the 1980s and is now very popular in the area.

Up Helly Aa

On the last Tuesday of January, residents of Lerwick, in the Shetland area of Scotland, celebrate their Viking roots by dressing up, marching through the streets and burning a Viking ship!

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

This is a very ancient ceremony held at Stonehenge, which was built around 2000-3000 years ago and was an important place in the Pagan religion of that time. Modern day pagans gather to see the stones lit up in a particular way by the sun at the summer solstice.

The Highland Games

This is a kind of Scottish Olympics, where people compete in traditional Scottish sports. Most of these involve throwing heavy objects, including Tossing the Cabre (throwing a huge wooden pole) and Hammer Throwing.

Swan Upping

Officially, all of the swans in England belong to the Queen. Every year, an official census is taken of all the swans living on certain parts of the River Thames to check they are still there!

Worm Charming

This is probably the strangest tradition of all. In this ‘sport’ people compete to ‘charm’ worms – to get them to come out of the ground. You can use tap dancing, music, singing or all kinds of other tactics to help you, but you can’t dig.

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