Saturday 3 December 2016

Throwing Oranges at the King Penguin: Those Obscure Christmas Customs

Ah, the traditions of Christmas. And while everyone knows that Prince Albert introduced the traditional Eastenders bloodbath to England, many lesser-known Yuletide customs are being reintroduced as part of the current rising tide of English nationalism.

1. Staffy decorating

In Northern English housing estates it used to be traditional to dress the household Bull Terrier up as a Bolton Wanderers player. It always used to be Nat Lofthouse but in these more culturally diverse times, it is now quite often Sam Allardyce.

2. Vicar Rolling

Common in the Wensleydale area, where Christmas was never complete if you had not tipped the local  clergy downhill.

3. Throwing Oranges at the King Penguin

In the Anglo Saxon Sagas, there is mention of the "King Penguin": an evil being who has sworn enmity with Father Christmas. The King Penguin flies over the rooftops on Christmas Eve looking to tip up Santa's magic sleigh. So the children of the Cotswolds used to throw oranges over the roofs of their houses to disrupt his flight path.

3. Election of the Snork Maiden

In the Forest of Dean, the Snork Maiden was elected by the Rangers of Cinderford on St Nicholas's Day, and would be entitled to a rugby ball each day until Candlemas. It is believed that Tove Jansson made use of this tradition when she created her Moomin mythology. It seems no coincidence that all the men in the Forest are bald with big noses.

4. Time-trialling Round the Town

On Friday nights in Advent the youths of Wellingborough race each other round the one-way system in battered hatchbacks.
They do it the rest of the year as well.

5. Bringing in the Yule Log

The Mayors of some towns on Salisbury Plain each year dress up as Yule logs and dance around the Market Squares singing songs from the shows. If this is a fertility ritual it ain't working.

6. Vanity Resignations: The Taming of the Zac

In parts of South West London, the sons of well-to-do philanderers would hand in their notice at Michaelmas, expecting to get their jobs back in time for Christmas. These men - known as "Zacs" would be the talk of the village for a few weeks and then, when they found their job had been taken by someone else, they had to make a living as the Village Idiot.

7. Village Finding

In parts of Somerset at this time of year, it is customary for villagers to come home from the fields to find their homes have once again disappeared under water. They wander the Levels in coracles, poking the ground beneath with long sticks, while singing songs of hatred for the Environment Agency.

8. Finding Excuses for the Church Being Empty in Advent

Every week up to Christmas in Lincolnshire, the Church Wardens try to come up with  reasons why there's so few people at Church on Sunday. These will include shopping trips to Newark, Christmas Markets, the weather, or kids playing football. The real reason the regulars aren't there - because they're all dead - is rarely mentioned.

9. King / Queen of the Bling

In the former council estates of Derby, the person putting the most house lights up is declared to be Queen or King of the Bling. The local gang chief will arrange for them to receive a giant turkey on Christmas Eve. And East Midlands Electric will send them seasonally-coloured bills in the new year.

10. Cabbage Eating in Bury

In Bury, Lancashire, it was traditional to eat all the cabbages in the house on Old St Nicholas's Day. The belief was that cabbages harboured evil green spirits which would cause mischief all through Advent otherwise. Nobody believes this anymore, of course. So these days nobody in Bury eats any veg at all.


  1. *thoughtful pebble*

  2. Finding excuses for the church being empty is a tradition alive and well in the Methodist circuit where I preach (and not just during Advent). The steward almost always regales me with a litany of reasons why numbers are down. I blame the advance publication of the preaching plan, which enables people to arrange their holidays and illnesses around the dates when I am visiting their church!

  3. I regret to say that some of these ancient customs are now in abeyance. For example, No.2. Vicar Rolling has had to be cancelled as the organisers could not come up with the £5million Public Liability Insurance required. Similarly No.3: the throwing of oranges over houses is contrary to Health & Safety. Don't you realise they might hit someone on the other side? As to No.7, that is a modern invention, I regret to say. In olden days (say up to and including the 20th century) villagers in places like Muchelney were not surprised by the annual arrival of floods; they simply moved their belongings upstairs and got on with life. If they had to travel anywhere, they walked along the tops of the rhynes. And they were careful to build only on the highest available sites within the flood plain area, anyway. At least, according to my granddad, who was born and brought up there.

  4. Further:
    Your research into the customs in the Forest of Dean is sadly misinformed. It is the Badgers of Broadwell that elect the Snork Maiden and she is entitled to a side of bacon a day till Candlemas. I also think you may have confused the men with the sheep; they are most certianly bald and big nosed.

  5. No 10 is of course absolutely based on fact, and the only reason methane levels have drastically reduced in Bury is that "no-one eats any greens".


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