In history

When it comes to Christmas, we all have our own family traditions, but there are some things that we expect to happen. Christingle services at the local church, Christmas lights appearing in the high street, but did you know there are some traditions that have been lost to history? Here are some of Britain’s forgotten festive traditions.

Christmas meat shows

If you’re a meat eater, you’ll know that trying to find cuts of meat in the week before Christmas is always a difficulty. That hasn’t changed, which is why local butchers would come together in the days before Christmas to sell their goods. These events would even have a competitive edge with prizes in certain categories.

Shoe the Mare

When it comes to festive games, we’re likely to reach for Monopoly or a similar board game but back in the days of Queen Elizabeth I there was a post dinner game called Shoe the Mare. The rules were simple to follow, one member of the family would remove their shoes and would run around, while everyone else would try and catch them.

12 days of mince pies

Here’s one we’re happy to get behind, eating mince pies every day for the 12 days of Christmas! Back in the Middle Ages, it was customary for people to eat one mince pie every day from Christmas Day until 6th January.

A Smoking Bishop

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a mulled wine or two and the Victorians certainly took their festive alcoholic drinks seriously. One was known as a Smoking Bishop, a mug of warm port, red wine, cloves and oranges. In the Shetland Isles, a Whipcoll was popular, which was an egg based drink with brandy, similarly in Devon there was Egg-hot and in Yorkshire, Lamb’s Wool which is similar to cider but with sugar and cream.

Burning Ash sticks

Known as the Ashen Faggot, this practice was common throughout the West Country at Christmas and is similar to the tradition of burning a Yule Log, which is popular throughout Europe. An Ashen Faggot is a bundle of sticks made from an Ash tree and bound, which is then burnt in the hearth on Christmas Eve. Unmarried ladies could each choose a band and if yours burned first, it would indicate that you would be getting married in the new year! In some parts of Devon some pubs still hold an annual Ashen Faggot burning, with cider drinking and carol singing as part of the proceedings.

A green Father Christmas

We’re all familiar with Father Christmas and his bright red suit but actually, the tradition images of Father Christmas had him in a green suit. Initially it would appear that Father Christmas appeared to represent the coming of spring, hence the green.


Another West Country tradition, Wassailing was a way that locals could protect their cider crop from evil spirits and typically took place on 12th Night. It appears to have originated in the 1600s, where people would prepare a hot cider and gather in orchards to scare away evil spirts while giving sacrifices of cider to the trees. Of course, we imagine a lot of cider was also drunk during the ceremony.




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