'So soon? Can it be that Christmas has come round once again, with its heart-stirring influences, never more needed, never more welcome, than at the closing period of the present year? It seems but as yesterday that we celebrated its rites, and joyously opened the gates of our affections to the pleasant associations, and cheery thoughts, and domestic charms which it bought with it.'
This excerpt from the front page of the Illustrated London News, back in 1900, confirms it's not just our rapid-paced modern society that brings about that, 'again... already?!' feeling most of us have at this time of the year.
But while that sentiment still rings true, some defining factors of the festive period have changed beyond recognition over the years. Most deserve their place in history's rubbish bins (fancy 'wassailing an apple tree' this Christmas eve? No. Thought not), but some other forgotten Christmas traditions we've found in our British newspaper archive were truly fantastic.
It's about time these ones were revived.
1. Ghost Stories
Yes, various film versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas (that's right, we know the full name) are on the telly every year, but for the most part spooky stories are relegated to Halloween nowadays. This news story from an 1846 edition of the Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser demonstrates the thirst for spectral happenings at a time of year we now associate with anything but.
2. Meat Shows
The words 'meat' and 'show' don't seem like obvious bedfellows, but an event prior to Christmas where all the local butchers come together to sell their goods makes perfect sense. With farmers' markets making a comeback in the last few years, this is one tradition we wouldn't be surprised to see returning. Oh yeah, and it's also a competition – perfect for filling the talent show void we get every Christmas after The X Factor and Strictly have ended! See below to find out who nabbed the hotly contested prizes for Kendal's 'Best fat Cow' and 'Best Fat Sheep' back in 1855.
3. Yule Logs
You can't get much more Christmassy than an open fire, but the idea of specially selecting a 'yule' log to burn has long since gone up in flames. It originated in Scandinavia, where no one would have to do any work as long as the yule log was burning, and maybe – as evidenced by the article clipping below from a 1905 edition of Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - its foreign origin is why we gave this particular tradition the boot. All we need to do is bring the tradition back, find the biggest log, and there you have it: a legit reason not to return to work until February.
On 21 December (St. Thomas' Day) poverty-stricken families used to knock on the doors of those more well off than them and ask for a handout in the form of food, drink or money. It was the one day of the year when there was no shame associated with begging, and much like how Americans stock up on sweets for Halloween, the rich households would often get their kitchens to prepare hampers for the poor.
It got replaced by Christmas carolling, which in turn got replaced by kids in hoodies shouting a verse of We Wish You a Merry Christmas at you before demanding payment. If whoever wrote this article for the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer back in 1936 had known how things would develop, maybe they would have been calling for its return rather than celebrating its demise.
5. The Ashen Faggot
Like the Yule log, but more specific. This West Country tradition required a large bundle of ash sticks bound with nine green lengths of ash band to be burned on Christmas Eve while the family gathers round. There are various reports on what else this tradition entailed, from singing Dunster carols to an excuse to drink (see article from Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette below). Apparently, the youngest member of the family would sometimes be placed on the burning faggot, and the length of time he stayed there would tell how brave he would someday be. Actually, there's probably a reason this tradition no longer exists.
On a separate note: roast badger, anyone?!
6. The Kissing Bough
Nowadays, Christmas smooching is generally relegated to drunken revellers brandishing a plastic bit of mistletoe in the hope of getting some action. The Kissing Bough, where kissing under mistletoe originates, was a far classier affair as evidenced by this beautiful description from the Western Daily Press, 1948.