Descriptions of Christmas foods and celebrations in the Survey of English Dialects include many of the features of a ‘traditional’ Christmas still enjoyed by many people today. Informants in Yorkshire recalled eating goose at Christmas, and spiced cakes were enjoyed in other locations including yule loaf (Christmas cake) in Staffordshire and yule dough – currant bread made into the shape of a man – in County Durham.
Informants in Worcestershire remembered going from house to house carol singing or wassailing. In Yorkshire, memories were shared of singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen while collecting from houses in wassail cups (Stokesley), and of Christmas boxes being given to carol-singing boys and girls (Rillington).
People from several counties including Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Somerset remembered mumming at Christmas time. Mumming involves troupes of amateur actors dressing up as characters and visiting houses or taking part in a play. The tradition goes back over a thousand years in England but is rare today. If you enjoy partaking in a bit of mumming at Christmas, do let us know!
Many of us enjoy chocolate eggs at Easter time, and some may still enjoy decorating and rolling eggs as many of the Survey’s informants did.
In Northumberland, County Durham, North Yorkshire and Lancashire, eggs were dyed using gorse plants, while cochineal was used in Gloucestershire and Bedfordshire. Informants in Norfolk and Essex also remembered painted eggs. In the northern counties, these were described as pace eggs and popular Easter traditions included bowling or striking them against each other – known as jauping them in Durham and Northumberland. Chocolate eggs were also enjoyed in Ludham in Norfolk. Perhaps a little less appetising to the sweet-toothed among us are brustle peas: peas that are cooked until crisp. This special dish was served up on Carling Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) in Welwick, Yorkshire.
One informant from Derbyshire remembered a pace egg play staged on the theme of St George. Similarly, in Threlkeld in Cumbria a male recalled enjoying a traditional drama featuring the Easter Jolly Boys, Miser Brown Boys, Lord Nelson and Toss Pot.
In Kent, an informant remembered enjoying hot cross buns on Good Friday, which many people still do today. Other Good Friday traditions that are less popular these days include a fried egg-eating contest in Shropshire, and the belief in Ludham, Norfolk, that bread baked on Good Friday was an effective cure for diarrhoea! Rainwater collected on this auspicious day was said to cure backache.