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16 Simply Splendid Easter Traditions From Around Britain

Nippy hug, anyone?

1. Bottle kicking, Leicestershire.

Flickr: 16904102@N02 / Creative Commons

Every Easter for the last 200 years, the villagers of Hallaton and neighbouring Medbourne have squared off across a field for the prize of a barrel (called a "bottle" here) of ale.

Each team kicks a bottle towards its village, hoping to cross the far stream before their rivals and win all the booze for themselves. Apparently, while the gouging of eyes is forbidden, practically every other dirty fighting trick is allowed, and broken bones are a regular occurrence.

2. The Nutter's Dance, Lancashire.

The men of Bacup have been blacking up, pulling on skirts and strapping bells to their legs since 1857. This odd parade is led by a whip-wielding man called the "Whiffler" or "Whipper-In", and takes place every Easter Saturday. Its purpose is to drive out evil spirits - and the blackface is meant to protect the dancers from demons.

3. Simnel cake, nationwide.

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Simnel is a light fruit cake decorated with 11 or 12 marzipan balls to represent the 12 apostles, excluding Judas.

Christians in the UK and the Republic of Ireland have been serving Simnel cake on the middle Sunday of Lent, when the fast is broken, since medieval times (although it may have been around in another form since long before that).

4. Egg jarping, North East England.

Egg jarping is the art of tapping one hard-boiled egg against another to see which one survives intact. If you think you have what it takes to win, you should head down to the egg jarping world championships in Peterlee, County Durham this Easter Saturday.

5. Egg rolling, Lancashire.

Flickr: tonyworrall / Creative Commons

Every 1 April, Preston Council holds its annual Easter egg rolling race, where you roll your egg from the top of a local hill to see whose reaches the bottom first. The eggs rarely survive the journey intact, but - you know what they say - nothing tastes like victory feels.

6. Maypole festivals, nationwide.

Maypole festivals are one of the most obvious artifacts from our pagan heritage. At Easter and midsummer, dancers celebrate spring, new life and the turning of the seasons by wrapping a wreathed pole in long ribbons.

7. Easter parades, nationwide.

Flickr: charlesfred / Creative Commons

In the UK, many children build and decorate colourful paper bonnets at school before Easter, then join a local parade through their town or village on Easter Monday to show them off. New clothes at Easter are traditionally considered to be good luck.

8. Morris dancing, in villages nationwide.

The Morris Dance is a complex choreography involving white suits, belts and sticks. The tradition has been practiced, mainly across England, since the 15th century and, like the maypole festival, is meant to celebrate the coming of spring.

9. Maundy Money, nationwide.

Flickr: britishmonarchy / Creative Commons

Every year, on the Thursday before Good Friday, the Queen hands out special purses of coins to elderly people who have worked in their community.

Leaders of Christian countries have handed out Maundy money, and performed other acts of public humility at Easter, since the fourth century. The Maundy Service mirrors the tale of Jesus washing his disciples' feet - monarchs offered their subjects a foot bath and gifts of money and clothing well into the 15th century.

10. Jack in the Green, nationwide.

The Jack in the Green is a foliage-covered man who leads a troupe of Morris dancers through towns and villages on May day and at Easter. The tradition, which exists across northern Europe in various forms, was considered "bawdy" in Victorian times and died out, but has been revived in many towns in the last 40 years.

11. Hot Cross Buns, nationwide.

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Hot cross buns are spiced raisin buns traditionally eaten toasted with butter on Good Friday.

In the 19th century, a London widow hung a hot cross bun up for her sailor son at Easter, but he died at sea without returning. The widow then hung a bun up every year in his memory - the house, which became The Widow's Son pub in Mile End, was known as the Bun House.

The current landlords continue the widow's tradition, and every Good Friday members of the Royal Navy are invited to throw a bun into the net suspended above the bar.

12. Pancake races, nationwide.

Pancake races, where participants run while flipping cakes, are held in towns across the UK on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras). Apparently the tradition originated when a housewife from Olney in Buckinghamshire was so late for church that she ran up the street while still carrying her frying pan.

13. Orange rolling, Bedfordshire

The residents of Dunstable have been rolling oranges down the steep slopes of Pascombe Pit every Good Friday for some years now. Usually the activity is serenaded by a Punch and Judy show, Salvation Army band and a gang of "pelters" who throw fruit at the competitors.

14. Hare Pie Scramble, Leicestershire.

Another tradition from the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne that harks back to the Easter gift of hare pie and beer.

It begins with the "Warrener" and his hare-topped staff leading a procession of villagers carrying the hare pie and bread through Hallaton. The pie is then blessed at the church and thrown among the crowd, which triggers a mass scramble for bits of pie. Again, injuries are common.

15. Planting Parsley, nationwide.

Flickr: drowsy_mary

According to ancient tradition, it's considered good luck for women to plant parsley on Good Friday. The folk belief that parsley travels to hell and back seven times before germinating is said to date back to Roman times. Another tradition claims that a good bed of parsley predicts a family of daughters.

16. Kissing Friday, nationwide.

Flickr: hellie55 / Creative Commons

Until the 1940s, the Friday after Ash Wednesday was known in parts of the UK as "Kissing Friday". On this day, schoolboys could demand a kiss from any girl they wanted without fear of rebuke - some boys even strung rope across the road and girls had to levy a kiss as a toll. And if she refused? The girl got pinched.

"Kissing Friday" was also celebrated it Leicestershire - but here it was called "Nippy Hug Day", and adult men could demand kisses from women, and reward any refusal with a pinched bum.

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