Interesting Christmas Yorkshire facts
In recent years the Christmas tradition of hanging a ‘kissing bough’ at Clifford’s Tower in York continued. This is an evergreen globe decorated with mistletoe berries and any single woman standing under it can apparently be kissed by any man … but perhaps not a good idea this year!
Many churches ring their bells on Christmas Day but at Dewsbury Minster they do things a bit differently. Starting at around 10.30pm on Christmas Eve, the bell-ringers toll a bell once for every year since Christ was born – this obviously takes a while to get through but is timed so that the last stroke is rung at exactly midnight.
One popular story of how turkey was introduced into England is that we owe this tradition to William Strickland, who lived in East Yorkshire. It is said he obtained six turkeys by trading with Native Americans while on a voyage to America in 1526. These were then brought back to England and sold in a Bristol market. Strickland is reputed to have continued the turkey trade and made so much money that he built a stately home near Bridlington.
The bizarre “Poor old Hoss” ritual is held every Christmas Eve in Richmond’s market place. A person wearing a horse’s head made of a real equine skull and black cloak is accompanied by a group of huntsmen. They sing a special song to it and bring it to life with hunting sticks and a horn. This peculiar event dates back to the 17C but probably has pagan origins.
Throughout advent in Haworth during the time of the Brontës, two Vessel Maids (young girls) would carry a decorated box (a Wassail Bob) with three figures inside that each represented a member of the Holy family. Every year they would call from house to house, singing carols and asking for a penny in exchange for a peep inside the box. It was considered unlucky if the Maids did not call, therefore most houses welcomed the treat.
Every year in York on 21st December, the Sheriff is escorted around the city by the York Waits playing music. The procession concludes with a speech at the Mansion House.
The Flamborough Sword Dancers perform around their home village every boxing day. With origins in the local fishing community, the team wear appropriate dark blue fishermen’s jerseys with white trousers and some of the dance moves are said to be taken from the threading actions used when repairing fishing nets.
For decades, people have joined the frantic Boxing Day dip in Whitby. The event now sees in excess of 200 souls braving the North Sea with the aim of raising money for charity or simply to shake off the Christmas excess! Unfortunately, the 2020 dip has fallen foul of the pandemic but it will be back with a splash in 2021.
The wonderful tradition of public carol-singing at the Royal Hotel in Dungworth near Sheffield has been going on for around 200 years and grows more popular each year.
Some believe that the first Christmas to be celebrated in Britain was in 521AD in York – it can’t be proved so we’ll take it!