Us Yorkshire folk are pretty known for our weird and wonderful ways (that we’re pretty much stuck in at this point), and as it turns out, those quirks extend to Christmas, too. Let’s face it, we just like to do things our own way.
From seaside sword dancing to wearing horses’ heads (yep, you read that right), we certainly take things to another level here in Yorkshire – but, as usual, we’re pretty proud of it. Without further ado, here are some of the most interesting Yorkshire Christmas traditions that still take place today.
An ancient tradition found in the East Yorkshire market town of Driffield, Scrambling is an annual tradition that sees the children of the town visit participating businesses on the high street who throw gifts from their shop windows for the kids to ‘scramble’ for. Gifts include sweets, pennies, and more.
The origins are not known, but the tradition still takes place annually every New Year’s Eve to see in the new year. Scrambling is believed to be unique to Driffield, at least according to multiple historians, and has been running for at least 200 years.
2. Running into the ice cold sea as part of the Whitby Boxing Day Dip
Every single year on Boxing Day, the people of Whitby brave the cold for a dip in the extremely chilly North Sea – a tradition that has now been running for over 45 years.
For almost half a century, ‘dippers’ – as participants are known – run fearlessly into the ice-cold sea as a fun way to cheer any post-Christmas blues the morning after the big day.
Guests can take on the challenge to raise funds for the charity, or simply take part for fun.
3. Wearing a horse’s head on Christmas Eve
Probably one of the strangest Yorkshire traditions at Christmas, the people of Richmond, North Yorkshire gather for an annual event that is said to bring luck – however, the history of it is a little bonkers, to say the least.
It’s said that back in the day, a person would wear an old horse’s skull and dress up as the ‘Poor Old Hoss’, before standing in the Market Place where the crowd would sing the song of his life.
Today, a hobby horse is used in lieu of an actual person, however, a horse’s skull is still used for the annual tradition. The strange annual event dates back to Pagan times and is a popular attraction for locals given its lucky sentiment.
4. Christmas cake and cheese
Sure, eating Christmas cake is an English tradition in general, but eating it with cheese originated right here in Yorkshire. What can we say? We have great tastebuds.
Tracing back to the Victorian times, it’s said that originally, each family member would be served a piece of Christmas cake and a slice of cheese on Christmas eve night, but would save part of it for breakfast on Christmas morning.
Naturally, the cheese of choice was originally a bit of Wensleydale, making it a very Yorkshire tradition indeed.
5. Satsumas in stockings (and coal if you’ve been naughty)
While stockings today are typically filled up with yummy chocolates – namely Terry’s Chocolate Oranges – the tradition comes from the age-old tradition of putting satsumas in our stockings.
The satsumas represent a bag of gold, stemming from a tale of St Nick throwing gold coins by the chimney which allegedly landed in the stockings of a poor man’s daughters.
Today, some families still practice the tradition of a symbol of Father Christmas’ generosity, however, most these days will likely find chocolate and other small presents in their stockings instead – or coal if you’ve been naughty! (something my parents still threaten me with today).
6. Having Yorkshire puddings with Christmas dinner
Now, this is still a debate even across families in Yorkshire – but many families practice this tradition all the same (especially mine).
Now, general British tradition has it that Yorkshire puddings don’t belong on a Christmas dinner, but that doesn’t stop the people of Yorkshire. Where there’s gravy, there’s Yorkshire puddings.
7. The Devil’s Knell in Dewsbury
A unique Yorkshire Christmas tradition to the town of Didsbury, Dewsbury Minster’s bell tollers take it in turns to tenor bell once for every year since Christ was born – starting from around 10.30pm on Christmas Eve and planning their last ring for midnight on-the-dot.
A service takes place in the church while the bells are ringing, and the bell tollers join the congregation at midnight.
It’s said that the bells mark the passing of the Devil and the birth of Christ – which some believed happened simultaneously, however, it’s not funny clear where the tradition began.
8. The Yorkshire Christmas Pie
Before there was turkey, there was the Yorkshire Christmas Pie – a pretty spectacular centerpiece enjoyed mostly by the wealthy due to the sheer amount of flour and meat it demanded.
Using whatever wild fowl people could get hold of, the multi-bird pie grew in popularity during the Georgian era, with goose, in particular, becoming a popular meat used to fill the mammoth pie.
Other popular birds of choice were pigeon, chicken, duck, grouse and turkey, with stuffing placed between each layer of meat – before being encased in thick pastry which would traditionally stand around nine inches tall and be decorated to perfection.
Today, the pie isn’t as popular, however, some butchers across the region still make them with game and turkey during the festive period.
9. The Kissing Bough at York’s Clifford Tower
Clifford Tower’s Kissing Bough dates back to the Victorian times, when mistletoe was hung at the centre of the tower to incite a little bit of romance in the city.
Single women would stand under the mistletoe, and a single man would be able to go up and kiss her.
The kissing bough tradition was actually highly popular in both Victorian and Georgian times, before Christmas trees were widely introduced.
Today, the Kissing Bough is occasionally brought back as a nod to York’s incredibly rich history.
10. Flamborough Boxing Day sword dance
A fairly unusual tradition originating within the fishing community of Flamborough, every Boxing Day, the Flamborough Sword Dancers perform around the village, donning traditional fisherman uniforms and using wooden swords for the performances.
The moves are inspired by the actions used when making and repairing their fishing nets, and are actually taught to school children to ensure the tradition continues long into the future.
Which of these Yorkshire Christmas traditions did you know of already?
Read more: The Yorkshire Pub Where Guy Fawkes Was Born Over 400 Years Ago