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New Year, Old Traditions

I have always taken down my Christmas decorations on January 6th.  My mum did, my nana did and I have always done the same, I have never questioned it, the 6th is twelfth night; but is it?

This year, after reading an article in the newspaper I am beginning to wonder: It looks as though it very much depends on where you start counting from.

Who cares you might ask, and of course it doesn’t matter at all, unless you’re very superstitious, and my guess is that we’re not quite a superstitious as we used to be.

Whilst asking google when he thought twelfth night was, I discovered a whole host of customs and traditions relating to this time of year and it made intriguing reading. I knew of some of them, but there were quite a few I’d never heard of before, maybe because they belong more to other parts of the country, but it’s sad to think that these rituals and beliefs from our past could be lost, becoming just distant memories talked of by parents and grandparents, or  confined to the history books.

Take the Mummers’ Play.  Often performed around New Year, I know a little about this from my late mother, who, with a local drama group performed the Mummers’ Play in Craven in the late 1940’s – Photographs show the group in Rathmell in Ribblesdale in late January 1947, the year of the bad winter; just look at the snow!  where they are performing is in the middle of the road!

This ancient play, thought to be thousands of years old represents the struggle between Good and Evil or Summer and Winter – A quarrel, a death, lamenting, a little magic performed by a doctor and then re-birth;  I last saw it in Settle in the 1970’s but I think it is still performed in some parts of the country today.

Fast forward a thousand or so years and one tradition we do still observe here in Wharfedale is the Annual Land letting or Hubberholme Parliament.  It’s always held on the first Monday in the New Year and that was Monday this week!

Most of the action occurs in The George Inn which was once used as the vicarage for the nearby church and they say that the vicar used to put a candle in his window to show his parishoners that he was in residence. To this day the pub carries on the tradition, keeping a candle lit whenever the bar is open.

The same candle (That’s the one from the bar, not the one used by the vicar in 1700 and something) is also used during the Land Letting, which is when the nearby 16 acres of church land, known as the Poor Pasture is let by auction.  Following a short service in the church to bless the land, the vicar resides in the House of Lords (the pub dining room) and takes bids from the House of Commons (the bar) Whoever has the highest bid on the book when the candle gutters and finally goes out wins the land for the year.  The proceeds of the auction are distributed to the poor of the parish.  This year, the winning bid when the candle flickered its last flicker at 1 minute past midnight was £770!

Needless to say, when the vicar, beer, some rowdy locals and a candle are involved, it can be an entertaining night!