British Traditions

The traditional customs of the British people have been modified over time by the processes of modernization probably more profoundly than in other countries. The rural transformation of the century. XVIII and the industrial revolution of the century. XIX are, in part, the cause of this renewal which helped urbanize the rural population and industrialize agriculture. Nevertheless, the heritage of traditional beliefs and rituals preserved in the collective memory of the residents testifies to a cultural heritage that dates back to the Middle Ages, to the first centuries of Christianity, to Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norman elements etc. What is certain is that the memory of the customs and beliefs handed down from an ancient past survives mostly in the smaller towns and villages where the residents preserve these traditions, although in many cases emptied of the original meaning. Just think of the use of the oak (whose cult was alive among the Celts) in the most varied constructions, or to a whole series of other beliefs (the ritual of knots and latches considered capable of binding life to a man preventing him from dying, that of transferring the disease that has struck a human being onto an animal or inanimate thing) of which today, in a modern mass communication society, traces and real meanings have largely been lost. However, the British nationalist spirit prevails over everything: the people of the United Kingdom are deeply attached to everything that belongs to their land and follow every celebration and ritual with extreme participation.

Among the various traditions, May Day is characteristic which, celebrated at the beginning of May in various small towns in England, Wales and Scotland, is linked to the ancient Celtic cult of trees (considered beneficial deities) to celebrate the vitality of spring. The party ends in the assault on the greasy tree and with the election of the queen of May. Another ancient festival that has remained in vogue in some villages is the Mumming Play, a kind of buffoonish representation, given in the streets during the Christmas period, which has rural roots and wants to be propitiatory for the next harvest: according to Thereligionfaqs, in this tradition the pagan idea of ​​the rebirth of nature is closely intertwined with the Christian one of birth and redemption. Feasts common to many European countries are those of San Giovanni and Ognissanti, with great fires also purifying and propitiatory, of ancient Celtic origin. Large bonfires are lit on November 5th of each year, in memory of the distant 1605 when the Congiura delle Dust failed, aimed at blowing up the Parliament. Particularly the situation of Cornwall which, secluded at the southwestern end of Great Britain, retains its own peculiarities. In fact, the legends of Celtic origin are very widespread, later merged with those related to the advent of Christianity (the tales of miraculous wells that have become the baptismal fonts of Christians or the Celtic tales of giant creatures intertwined with the legends of the saints). Legends relating to fairies are also common, probably originating from the presence, in the marshy areas of Cornwall, of phosphorescent lights due to gaseous emanations. In Somerset, however, and in particular in the Glastonbury region, where one of the first Christian buildings in England stands and the place where, according to tradition, King Arthur is buried, many legends circulate concerning the Knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail.

The exploits of Robin Hood, among the most famous characters of English folklore and a symbol of the fight against the oppression of authority, instead make Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest, the popular hero’s refuge, famous. Also very popular is the Halloween party (October 31st) which goes back to ancient Celtic traditions. The Celts considered October 31 to be the last day of the year and believed that in the evening the spirits of the dead would visit their earthly homes. In the villages every hearth was turned off to prevent the spirits from staying there, while the priests (druids) dedicated themselves to propitiatory sacrifices. Following the Roman conquest of Britain, Halloween took on some characteristics of the Roman harvest festival, which was celebrated on November 1st in honor of Pomona, goddess of fruit trees. Eisteddfod (which means “meeting of poets”) was originally a tournament between bards in which poets and musicians competed with each other to win a place of honor in the homes of nobles. For the occasion, Welsh people wear traditional costumes, organize craft exhibitions and perform in folk poetry competitions. In addition to the Royal National Eisteddfod, organized alternately in the north or south of the country in August, the International Music Eisteddfod is also held, held in Llangollen in July and, in May, the Urdd (Youth) Eisteddfod, dedicated to the most young. In mid-July, the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, the annual festival of cows and plows, takes place in Llanelwedd. Male voice choirs are another of the Welsh institutions, and they are particularly linked to the development of the towns that have sprung up from the coal mines of the South: rooted in the Methodist tradition, their repertoires include a large number of religious hymns. Scotland is another land rich in ancient traditions. More than anywhere else, ghost legends survive here (Glamis Castle is the center of these ancient stories, and it is no coincidence that Macbeth was its lord). The wonderful and the terrifying are part of the Scottish taste and tradition, which has mythologized the Loch Ness monster, whose periodic reappearances are now evoked by the entire continental press. Scotland is the land of the clans (small fiefdoms with a sovereign head and a community life), which were born with the Celts and developed in the century. XII under King Malcolm Canmore. Of the traditions of the clans, two fundamental remain: the use of tartan and the cult of the bagpipes. Tartan indicates the Scottish fabric with a characteristic design, in turn an indicative assortment of the clans to which it belongs. The oldest form of the tartan or belted plaid is that of a large cloak worn to form both the classic kilt (kilt) and the plaid, real cloak carried over the folded shoulders. In the traditional Scottish costume the kilt remains today which, since it has no pockets, is completed by the sporran, a bag attached to the belt. A tweed jacket with horn buttons is usually worn on the kilt. The headdress is a kind of beret and the socks are woolen with garters and ribbons in Scottish fabric. The bagpipe is the second staple of the Scottish tradition. Each clan was distinguished not only by the colors of the tartan, but also by its own melodies. The piper was and is the man in charge of playing in all important circumstances (births, deaths, battles). The Scottish regiments still have theirs piper and the bagpipe band. The Edinburgh Tattoo ceremony is famous, in which at the opening of the Edinburgh music festival in late summer, all the bands of the Scottish regiments and bagpipes of the Commonwealth countries put on a show in the esplanade in front of the castle. Another very famous Scottish festival is that constituted by the Highland Games, celebrated in September in Braemar, near Balmoral. Dances, athletic games, cutting of trees, then raised in strength contests, take place between the general cheerfulness and the accompaniment of the bagpipes.

Northern Ireland, an island located in the extreme west of the Old Continent, is a place of refuge and survival of various customs and traditions that have disappeared in other regions. Considerable, for example, is the tradition concerning mythology and the supernatural, as well as that of the storytellers who, although very faded compared to the past, continue to survive by perpetrating themselves through new means of communication such as television. A separate discussion deserves what, according to conventions, is the typical British style. According to George Orwell’s definition of his compatriots in The English People (1947), among the salient characteristics of the English type are: “artistic insensitivity, kindness, respect for legality, suspicion of foreigners, sentimentality for animals, hypocrisy, tendency to exaggerate class distinctions and obsession with sport “. The cornerstone of British custom is the sense of “decency”. It is not “decent” to raise one’s voice, as this causes disturbance; it is not “decent” to push to get into a public car; it is not “decent” to impose one’s own ideas, since everyone has the right to consider themselves as right as everyone else. It is not “decent”, the failure to respect the weekly rest. According to the Puritan concept, it is not decent to go to pubs either, and it is at least appropriate to exclude the boys. The pubs (public houses) are places to drink a mug of beer or a shot of whiskey. Soho is the London neighborhood where these clubs enjoy the most freedom. Here the “Soho week” is celebrated with an austere beginning and a carnival-like conclusion, to reaffirm the fame of this famous bohemian district. The pubs have now gradually evolved towards the European conception of the meeting less bound by restrictive rules.

The club dominates as a more controlled, more traditional meeting place. Purely aristocratic, it is the haunt adopted by gentlemen to spend your free time in a way that suits your ideas. English social and economic life is regulated by ancient customs. In London, the city is the heart of this tradition, a crossing point for the entire UK economy: very active during the day, the city dies at night, depopulated by all its officials, who have their homes elsewhere. English is also a traveler: in a caravan, by car, by bicycle, on foot, he leaves the city for the countryside or the sea, or devotes himself to sport (football, rugby, tennis, sailing, fishing, cricket, the national game) and regattas. Famous of all the Henley Royal Regatta of Oxfordshire, which also includes the winners of the Head of the River played in Cambridge between the teams of the different colleges. § In the traditional diet, the English people follow a diet rich in meat. The breakfast (breakfast), generally quite abundant, includes eggs, bacon, tea and sausages; at noon (lunch), cold meat dishes; tea with sweets at 5 pm or when the head of the family returns from work (6 pm or 6.30 pm). The dinner is the evening meal, often replaced by the late afternoon tea. Some specialties of English cuisine are pudding (pudding) and pies (savory and sweet pies whose filling is covered with a disc of dough) and mutton stews. The national drink is beer, usually dark and sour, drunk at room temperature. Among the liqueurs, the absolute supremacy belongs to whiskeys. Among the traditional dishes of Welsh cuisine, laverbread (a mixture of seaweed, oats and bacon served on toast), rarebit (cheese toast flavored with mustard and beer) and Glamorgan sausages, topped with cheese, breadcrumbs, leek and aromas. Scotland is renowned for the quality of some of its products: beef and salmon above all, but also seafood, smoked fish and cheeses. Typical dishes are the haggis (a combination of parts of sheep, offal and cereals), the black pudding (a sausage made with oats, kidney fat, onion and sheep or pork blood) and herring in oatmeal (herring breaded with oats and fried in butter).

British Traditions