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Getting to Know Some of the Famous British Traditions

Tradition plays a significant role in preserving a country's culture and educating its people, especially the younger generation about the history, values and beliefs that have been in existence for centuries. The British culture is rich and colourful as are its customs and traditions.

British people are not only known for their good manners and politeness but also for the importance they place on British traditions. Although some may find several of these practices a tad quirky, the sense of community and awareness of these traditions strengthen and make these beliefs more meaningful.

So, whether you want to know your roots and have a deeper understanding of what it means to be British or you are from another country interested in British traditions, learning a few of these practices is a good way to start.

Maypole Dancing

This is a form of folk dance in which children dance around a tall pole adorned with garlands, flowers and painted stripes, in a choreograph manner, to create interesting patters of multi-coloured ribbons. This ceremonial dance has been done since the medieval times and indicates the coming of spring. The loveliest maiden in the village is chosen as May Queen while other young villagers are in their best sackcloth dancing reels. Today, school children are the dancers and they dance around the pole in a circle while holding a coloured ribbon that is attached to the pole.

Straw Bear Day

Also spelled as "Strawboer", this old English tradition is popular in Fenland, bordering Cambridgeshire, Ramsey Mereside and Huntingdonshire. Believed to commemorate the start of England's agricultural year, this practise is celebrated on 7th January. Here, a lad or a man wears a costume made of straw, from head to toe. He goes around the village and visits every house while he dances. People give him food, beer and money.

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Morris Dancing

Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. The dancers may also wield implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs. The earliest known and surviving English written mention of Morris dance is dated to 1448, and records the payment of seven shillings to Morris dancers by the Goldsmiths' Company in London. Many Morris events take place on or around May Day.

Jack in the Green

In Bristol, a Jack in the Green Festival is celebrated with a lively parade of musicians and dancers around the streets, passing from the historic Harbour side and ends up to Horfield Common, to welcome Summer while in Hastings, it is celebrated over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. Jack is a figure that is at least 9 feet tall and covered in flowers and greens. Attendants, dressed in vegetation and green rags, guide Jack through the streets as they play music, dance and sing.

Beating the Bounds

This tradition started as early as the 5th century and was celebrated by parishioners who prayed to God to bless and protect their crops. One of the most significant parts of the reformation is walking the parish boundary. Parishioners to mark their parish boundaries do this. This is still celebrated in some English and Welsh parishes.

Guy Fawkes Night

Celebrated on 5th November annually in Britain, this ceremony is filled with bonfires and fireworks to commemorate the captivity of Guy Fawkes, who was an explosive expert who guarded the explosives during the Gunpowder Plot, which was supposed to blow up the House of Lords. The conspiracy was plotted in 1605 to assassinate King James I of England who was a Protestant so he could be replaced with a Catholic head of state. It was known as Gunpowder Treason Day but was later on given the name it is known today. The burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes highlights this celebration.


Those new to British culture and traditions need not worry, as the ones mentioned above are easy and even fun to join in. That's why it is not surprising that both local and foreign students look forward to these events.