So it's December 28th and Christmas has gone for another year, New Year is looming and we're all suitable stuffed with mountains of turkey, roast potatoes, nuts and Quality Street all washed down with a few bottles of Baileys.
At least I am. Every year at Christmas I do the same routine, I wrap my presents while watching 'Blackadder's Christmas Carol', 'Scrooged' and 'The Holiday'. I travel to Portsmouth to see my family, we go to church on Christmas Eve (even though we don't go any other time of year), and on the big day itself we have a banquet sized meal, open the presents, play games, drink ourselves into a hilarious stuper until we need more food in the evening because we haven't been grazing enough during the day! Every year my family follow our routine. Our tradition. I'm sure you all have your own traditions too?
This got me thinking to us Brits in general and how we love our traditions. Lots of them, for every occasion, and the more eclectic, the better!
From the 15th century rooted tradition of Morris Dancing to loving our fish and chips on a Friday and roast dinners on a Sunday, we are a country steeped in brilliant and bonkers traditions. These are just a few of my favourites.
Also known as Bonfire Night, each 5th November we celebrate the night in 1605 that a merry
band of conspirators tried to blow up the House of Parliament and kill King James I in what became known as The Gunpowder Plot. They didn't succeed and were arrested and sentenced to death. One of those men was Guy Fawkes (real name Guido Fawkes) whom the annual celebration is named after. We light huge bonfires, make stuffed Guy Fawkes dolls (or Guys) and ask people to give us a penny for them, and we let off around 100 million fireworks across the country. We are of course celebrating that James I survived, so next time you happen to be outside the Houses of Parliament, have a look at the statue of Richard the Lionheart (King Richard I) sitting on his horse in the private car park; that car park is called Old Palace Yard, and it is where Guy Fawkes was hung drawn and quartered in 1606, one year after his infamous crime.
But if you want a Fireworks Night with a difference, head to the usually sleepy town of Lewes in East Sussex where each 5th November they also remember the burning of the seven martyrs and scenes of anarchy and flame throwing revelry are not for the faint hearted!
Oh and just so you know, we call them bonfires because in the Middle Ages they used to dispose of human bones in fires........bone fires.
If you were to visit a village fete or folk festival, there's a good chance you would be fortunate enough to see some traditional Morris dancing. Try to imagine a troupe of people, dressed in
old-fashioned clothes, with bells on their legs, holding sticks and handkerchiefs, and dancing, well...kicking a lot, to simple, traditional folk music played on a fiddle or accordion, and you get the idea. The earliest Morris dancing on record is as far back as 1448 but the tradition still holds firm today and plays a big role in the Brits hearts!
There are not many things in life us Brits love more than a good Sunday roast dinner. My father insists on one every Sunday and his own are more like trying to concur a mountain than simply eat dinner, the man has no portion control. A Sunday roast has a pretty basic layout - meat (traditionally beef), roast potatoes, roast veg, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Sounds simple right? Not really - you'll never rely on your timing skills so heavily as when trying to
make sure the Sunday roast comes together perfectly. So where does this most delicious of meals come from? Reigning from the 1700's the Sunday roast was developed as a follow up meal after the very common practice on going to church on a Sunday morning. Folk would place a slab of meat into the oven with vegetables before walking to the local church so that the hot food would be ready for when they returned. They would then thank God for their meal - a tradition which many still follow today. Some religions ate certain foods on certain days; for example many Roman Catholics and Anglicans would eat meat on a Sunday but only eat fish on a Friday. Over the years, this tradition led to 'fish and chip Friday' with this day still being the busiest of the week for our much loved fish and chip shops.
Recently the traditional Sunday roast came second in a poll of most popular British food. What do you think came first? No, it wasn't fish and chips, but curry! And yes, we did invent the Chicken Tikka Masala, in Glasgow!
Inside the majestic Horsechestnut Tree lives a seed, this seed is called the conker, and this conker provides great amusements for many all over the UK. Take your conker, thread a piece of string through and then bash conkers (no that's not a euphemism) with another person until one of them breaks. It's a lot more fun than it sounds. So much fun in fact that every October in Ashton, Northamptonshire, we hold the World Conker Championships! At this point I'm pretty sure there are plenty of Brits reading this saying "there's a world conkers championship?" Well yes there is and superbly popular it is too!
Starting in 1965 by a group of fisherman who couldn't go out to sea due to bad weather, the championships now draw in thousands of visitors every year and people watch while players compete to win the titles of King Conker and Queen Conker. Conkers are also said to keep spiders at bay, which could be why my Dad has conkers on his stairs at home.
Make no mistake, us Brits love nothing better than a good cup of tea, and the only thing that makes a good cuppa a great cuppa, is a yummy biscuit to dunk into the tea while we're
drinking it. But this can be no ordinary biscuit. This biscuit must survive the hot tea without floundering. Nothing makes a Brit more angry than when the biscuit has been over dunked and drops to the bottom of the cup. Cue a hefty sigh and the realisation that once you reach the bottom of your tea, your crunchy biscuit will now just be a mosh pit of soggy crumbs. For this very reason the most popular biscuit to dunk is the simple digestive. For an extra treat make it a chocolate one.
For all over indulgence I heartily recommend a chocolate hobnob.
Back in 1976 two men were having a conversation in a pub which grew into a group
conversation and out of this conversation began the activity of bog snorkelling, and it is exactly how it sounds. The idea is to complete swimming two lengths of a bog wearing a snorkel and flippers in the shortest time possible. So popular is this filthy flipper fest that the Waen Rhydd Bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells plays host each year to people from all the world trying to break the world record for Bog Snorkelling. Apparently there's a Bog Triathlon too!
I think this has to be one of my favourite things about being British. I love cheese and have been known to roll down a hill in my time (I'll save that story for another day). Every Spring bank holiday, the Cotswolds see a sight that just sums up eclectic Britain - Cheese Rolling. So popular is this wonderful event that the number of attendees has had to be capped at 5,000 as nearly 15,000 people turned up in 2009! Participants must compete to roll their round of Double Gloucester cheese down the hill and across the finish line. Sounds pretty tame but this event gets brutal. There have been reports of concussion, fights, broken bones and more! The cheese itself can gather speeds of up to 70mph so I'm sure a pile up or two has also been reported, just look at the below picture!
There are of course so many more British traditions that make us who we are, not to mention our many quirks (saying sorry for everything and believing queuing is some kind of formal ritual) but these are just a few of my favourites.