Despite the gloomy weather, incessant rains and the British sun that is much like that old uncle who visits once a decade, we Brits know how to celebrate.
We don’t just know how to celebrate; we keep discovering a plethora of new things worth celebrating. Birthdays, house-warming parties, baby showers, retirement parties, Saturday evening parties all fall within the spectrum of normal, everyday, socially acknowledged activities, and we enjoy them to the full.
However, there was still too much energy and life ebbing through us, circling and fighting, electrified and buzzing – we were always teeming with raw magnetism towards the place where there is a crowd. Not satisfied with the amount of fun we were having, we’ve therefore decided to take it a step further.
Here is a list of some the weirdest customs and celebrations in the UK:
Ottery St. Mary Tar Barrels
Every 5th November, the city of Devon lights up, and it does so in a most spectacular fashion. 17 enormous barrels are filled with tar, lit, and then carried around town on the shoulders of behemoths strong enough to carry them.
Even though almost 10,000 people appear for the spectacle every year, no one seems to know exactly what is going on.
Unsolved is the mystery of what the barrels represent, and of whether it is a barrel race or merely a crazed tomfoolery designed to excite, entertain and enthral. Although, it does seem the point of the whole ordeal is for the bystanders to get as close to the barrel as they can, without catching fire or being bathed in boiling tar.
You know, just the like on a usual Saturday night.
On Shrove Tuesday (day before Ash Wednesday) people of the United Kingdom flip pancakes.
The tradition is rooted in religion, since pancakes used to be served on Shrove Tuesday in order to use up all fatty foods in the household prior to the Lent fast. However, what makes this tradition special is the racing. People grab their frying pans, their pancakes, and race – while flipping pancakes.
Needless to say, pancake flipping in general seems like the worst of nightmares to the unaccustomed and untrained, let alone doing it mid-run.
Charity runs are held throughout the country; even the House of Lords and the House of Commons compete against each other in the Parliamentary Pancake charity race. Practice at home, extensively, before you even think of competing in one. Or don’t – it’ll make for a funnier race.
The annual Wife Carrying race is hosted every year in The Nower, Dorking. It is an event in which men carry their significant others over a 400m course, racing to reach the finish line first. The history of the race is a bit grimmer: after a Viking invasion in 793 AD destroyed and plundered the villages, the invaders carried off all the local women from their homes. The “sport” was first introduced in Finland, where World Championship in Wife Carrying has been held since 1992. In 2008, the tradition has been revived in the UK, under somewhat more modern and humane rules. It is a fun, physically challenging and exciting even, however… All you husbands out there, tread lightly:
– Honey, shall we participate in the Wife Carrying race this year? – she asked.
– I am sorry, lovey, but I can’t carry you – he replied… and moved out of their house the very next day.
“Did you know, 500 years ago this was a green and peaceful area? The old Earl of Peckham had a castle where the Kwik-Fit exhaust centre now stands.
Flaxen-haired maidens used to dance round the village maypole of an evening. And then one fateful medieval day, the Trotter clan arrived in a stolen Zephyr. Before you knew it, the flaxen-haired maiden was up the spout, the old Earl had been sold some hooky armour and someone nicked the maypole.”
This is a quote by Boycie, a beloved character on the hit TV-show “Only Fools and Horses.” A maypole, a decorated wooden pole, serves as centrepiece of a ceremonial folk dance done to celebrate May Day (public holiday celebrated on May 1st). Historically, it was done to celebrate the arrival of spring.
People gather around the maypole, grab ornately designed ropes, and spin and dance around it – a choreographed, deliberate dance done to decorate the maypole from top to bottom.
Maypole festivities are always events roaring with laughter: grab a couple of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives – and enjoy yourself. More likely than not, after experiencing your first maypole celebration, you will become a recurrent visitor.
Hurling the silver ball
Imagine yourself in a huge mob, carried by the immense humanity through the tight, winding streets of Cornwall, unaware of your destination. You are carrying a ball made of silver, and you and your team have to score (chuck it into a goal) on the far side of town, while the other team is trying to stop you (only for show and amusement, as there is no competitiveness). It is an event almost as mysterious as Ottery St. Mary Tar Barrels, but equally exciting and fun.
Everyone pushes and pulls, scrums, chums, chugs and tackles, and overall, has a great time. After the match, the teams gather up and immerse the ball in huge jugs filled with beer.
And, naturally, everyone present then drinks the beer.
Life without meaning would be, finely put, meaningless. Life without entertainment would be, very plainly put, boring.
That’s why cultures and civilizations come up with holidays, national events, celebrations and festivities of this kind and that – for people to come together, spend time out in the open, together, drinking and jollying it up, and form bonds with others. They are as vital as good healthcare and schooling; for what is life when lived as a dull, dreary day-to-day slog through the swamps of jobs, tasks, and duties?
National holidays and events also strengthen communities, neighbourhoods, cities, countries and, ultimately, whole cultures. As we’ve already mentioned, British people have gone a bit further to spice their lives up, and came up with dozens upon dozens of joyous events through the country.
I mean, we had to, for who in their right minds would stay sane with all that grey above our heads?