Across Lancashire there are many traditional Christmas customs. Some are still celebrated, while some have fallen out of use. Join us as we explore the weird and the wonderful Lancashire Christmas customs!
We will start with some of the more unusual Christmas traditions! On Christmas Eve in Lancashire, it was believed by some that cows fell to their knees in worship, and the bees hummed the Hundreth Psalm. This psalm went as follows:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Another very peculiar custom surrounded the Lancashire “Old Ball”. At Christmas an old horse’s head was carried around at Christmas on a stick, and this “Old Ball” would bite everyone it could get hold of. It would hold its victim until its release was bought for a few pence. A clever way of collecting some extra money!
These customs might seem exotic to us, but other customs are more familiar to us. Whilst hand bell ringing might has fallen out of favour, the singing of carols was as popular then as it is now with many dating back centuries!
Mince pies were equally popular. The dried fruits mixed with Eastern spices represented the offerings of the three wise men to Jesus. The shape of mince pies has changed, as mince pies used to be long and slender, and not round as they are nowadays. The earlier form represented the shape of the manger in which the baby Jesus lay.
The end of the Christmas celebrations was celebrated on the Three Kings Day on the 6th January, also known as the Feast of Epiphany or Little Christmas. It was a day of rest for women after all the hard work they had invested into cooking, cleaning and entertaining!
Christmas punch is also not a new invention, a fruit punch named Wassail was a popular Christmas tradition. This mixture of alcohol, fruits and spices was drunk at Christmas time, and a slice of bread soaked in this punch would be placed in the branches of a Christmas Tree.
Wassail was popular across the whole North of England and a game was played that centered on the “Vessel Cup” or “Wassail Cup”. It was usually played on 17th January.
The game changed from place to place, but the basic approach usually included children, often two girls, called the “vessel maids”. Wassailers carried a box which was decorated with a white cloth, evergreens, fruit and spices, from home to home of wealthy residents. Carols were sang and after receiving money the sheet was lifted to reveal a scene of the Holy Family. This custom is though to have had a pagan origin.
More recent Lancashire traditions include Christmas decorations, for example, the seaside resort of Blackpool and its famous Christmas illuminations! The town was first lit by electric lights in 1879, however it was not until 1912 that the town became known for it light displays. By the early 1930s, the lights in Blackpool had become a tourist attraction and the big switch on regularly attracted celebrity names. The illuminations are still popular today and draw in large crowds who are brave enough to face the infamous Blackpool weather!
Finally, a fizzy pop company based in Preston called Whittaker’s of Preston, Lancashire employed a delivery driver called Father Christopher Moss. Father Moss was a semi-retired priest who was often depicted in their Christmas promotional campaigns as Father Christmas and dressed in a brown tunic that represented the colour of the companies fizzy pop.
Father Moss would make deliveries throughout Preston and often drove throughout the night to make sure the people of Preston had their Christmas supply of pop!
We hope you enjoyed delving into the world of traditional Christmas customs in Lancashire. Wherever you are and whatever customs you are celebrating this year: have a Merry Christmas!
Smith after H. Melville, Wycoller Hall, Lancashire, Christmas 1650, published inLancashire Illustrated, 1831, image via http://www.ancestryimages.com/proddetail.php?prod=f6895
“Vessel Maids”, image via http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Wassailing/
“Wassailing” children, image via http://piereligion.org/yulesongs.html
Children performing carols, image via http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/christmas/carols.shtml
Blackpool Illuminations, image via http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/whats-on/family-kids-news/gallery/blackpool-through-the-years-9758822
Whittakers Christmas, image via http://www.lancashirelife.co.uk/people/the_eminent_dr_derek_j_ripley_reveals_how_lancashire_put_the_fizz_in_christmas_1_1780245