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British Life & Culture
Unusual British Customs & Traditions
by Mandy Barrow

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Strange, bizarre, wacky, eccentric and even mad festivals still taking place in Britain today

Calendar of unusual Customs and Traditions
in England, Scotland and Wales
image: Unusual Calendar

A long time ago the year was marked out with special days which marked the passing year. These were days of celebrations where people would do things, eat things or make things which they would not normally do.

See also folklore, facts and sayings about December

Mummers Plays

Mummers' Plays are one of the oldest surviving features of the traditional English Christmas. Mumming in England goes back for over a thousand years.

Mumming is best described as early pantomime. The plays are based loosely on the legend of St. George and the dragon. The plays are intended to show the struggle between good and evil.

Winter Solstice

Burning the Clocks, Brighton
Annual lantern parade held on 21 December, the shortest day.

25 December Christmas Day

Christmas Day Morning

Hundreds of British swimmers get into the festive spirit and dress up in fancy dress for a bracing Christmas swims.

Peter Pan Swim Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park - 9am
This event dates back to 1864, when the author of the children’s classic, J M Barrie presented the Peter Pan Cup. Dozens of men and women swim the 100 yards in temperatures just above freezing and spectators are welcome on the banks. Only members of the Serpentine Swimming Club may take part in the race.

Brighton beach swim - 11 am

More than 700 spectators gather on Christmas morning to watch 100 brave souls plunge into the icy surf for up to 15 minutes off the South Coast. Fancy Dress is optional.

The Christmas morning swim has been an annual event for the Brighton Swimming club since 1895.

Sandy Bay in Porthcawl, South Wales

Around 1,000 people brave the icy cold waters of Sandy Bay in Porthcawl
for the annual Christmas Morning Swim. The Sandy Bay Swim tradition started in 1964.

26 December Boxing Day

Tenby Boxing Day Swim, Dyfed, Wales

Tenby Boxing Day Swim started in 1970 and has snowballed into Tenby's main Christmas attraction. With around 600 swimmers with most in fancy dress and thousands of onlookers each year, this fantastic spectacle is not to be missed.

The charity event takes place on the North Beach, and the swim itself is at 11.30am.

Nippy Dipper Boxing Day Dip, Aberdeen

More than 100 swimmers – usually in fancy dress, from Santa suits to mermaid costumes – take to the sea for a Boxing Day dip.

It starts at Beach Esplanade, opposite Beach Leisure Centre, at 10am.

Grantchester barrel rolling, Cambridgeshire

The tradition of Boxing Day barrel rolls dates back to the 60s, but was revived in 2003. Four teams compete from Grantchester, just outside Cambridge

The races start at midday and last around 40 minutes, with prize-giving taking place at the Rupert Brooke pub.


The Keynsham Mummers, Somerset

Every Boxing Day the streets of Keynsham, between Bristol and Bath, you can watch the Keynsham Mummers Play, which has been performed in the town since the beginning of the 19th century.

It's performed at 11.30am at the Keynsham Centre and at noon at the New Inn.

Haslemere run, Surrey

A three-and-a-half-mile fun run with a pint of winter ale for each runner two miles into the race.

The race begins at 11am at the Crown & Cushion pub on Wey Hill.

Beach football, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

The traditional Comedy Football Match on Scarborough Beach dates back to the late 19th century, when the game was first played as a charity fundraiser for the wives and children of fishermen who went down in a serious storm. Today players are in fancy dress and forced dunkings in the sea afterwards. After the final whistle, there's a raft race in the harbour

27 December

Maldon mud race, Essex

Hundreds of people wading through muddy lagoons and marshes around Maldon. The event takes place at Promenade Park, at 1pm, with all money raised going to local charities.

31 December New Year's Eve

Swinging the Fireballs, Stonehaven, Grampian.

"The Fireballs" is a colorful annual festival, unique to Stonehaven. The ceremony isStonehaven's way of welcoming the New Year in.

Tar Barrels, Allendale, Northumberland

At 11.30pm on New Years Eve, 30 or so men in costume carry burning tar barrels on their heads to the bonfire in the market square where they are thrown at midnight.

image: tar barrels

Christmas Traditions in England

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.