7 barmy but brilliant British traditions

Finnish National Sleepy Head Day sees the last person in the household to wake up has water chucked over them. It sounds crazy, but we Brits are in no position to mock…

If you were last to wake in your household on Monday, just be grateful you don’t live in Finland – unless of course you do, in which case, hard luck. There, the ‘laziest’ person in the house, defined as the one who is last to rise from their slumber, would have a bucket of water poured on them to wake them up in honour of National Sleepy Head Day. Unluckier still, are the late risers who are chucked into a lake, pool or river.

Observed in the Finnish calendar since the Middle Ages, according to tradition, the day marks the Saints of Ephesus who slept in caves for 200 years to hide from persecution from the Roman Emperor Decius.

While we Brits might have escaped a soaking this morning, we do still have plenty of unusual traditions, as this lot prove.

Maypole dancing

Maypole dancing

Maypole dancing

A form of folk dancing, this tradition sees a circle of people holding on to a piece of garland attached to a big pole and jigging around it.

But it’s not aimless – some forms of the dance see the dancers intertwining their ribbons and then retrace their footsteps to unravel the ribbon. The tradition began to celebrate May Day, with the prettiest girl in the town or village making a speech to kick off proceedings.

Bog snorkelling

Bog snorkelling

Bog snorkelling

Less appealing than a nice old jig is the annual World Bog Snorkelling Championships held in Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys. There, the brave competitors don their snorkels, flippers – and even the odd fancy dress shark suit – and race each other to swim along a 120ft trench filled with mud, all in the name of charity.

Morris dancers

Morris dancers

Morris dancing

Like maypole dancing, Morris dancing is also part of a folk tradition and involves a set of people wearing white shirts and red braces with bells and implements attached to their clothes.

Those taking part jig in a choreographed fashion using sticks, handkerchiefs and swords. There are lots of regional variants of the Morris dance including the East Anglian Molly Dance, the Welsh Border Morris and the Yorkshire Long Sword dance.

Worm charming competition

Worm charming competition

Worm charming

Worm charming, that is to say, the method of enticing earthworms from the ground, also goes by the delightful names worm grunting and worm fiddling.

Every year in Cheshire, competitors flock to try to charm the highest number of wriggly ones out of the ground as they can in just 30 minutes.

Straw bear

Held annually in January, the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesea on the Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire borders sees an elected local dressed up as a straw bear, flanked by 250 dancers, musicians and performers.

The entourage then visit local pubs and take part in a procession down the local streets. The custom, which used to see the straw bear performing on doorsteps in return for food, money and beer, was resurrected in 1980 after being phased out at the start of the century.

Yes, the hill IS that steep!

Yes, the hill IS that steep!

Cheese rolling

Cheese rolls = delicious. Cheese rolling = dizzying. And yet every spring, people flock to Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire to roll down a hill chasing a 9lb round of Double Gloucester cheese. The first person to roll over the finish line wins the cheese.

Pearly Kings and Queens

Pearly Kings and Queens

Pearly Kings and Queens

Founded by Henry Croft (1861-1930), the London pearly kings and queens wear elaborate dark suits decorated in beautiful pearl buttons.

Croft, an orphan who worked as a street sweeper, was inspired to start wearing pearly buttons after seeing a group of market traders who sewed buttons to recognise each other and help each other out.

Croft wanted to collect money for charity and in a bid to stand out, started sweeping the streets for pearly buttons, eventually covering his suit in them. These days, the pearly families still collect money for charity and celebrate with a yearly parade from Guildhall to St Mary-le-Bow.

So who says we British don’t have a sense of humour?


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